It remains unclear whether plans for a so-called super hospital in Central Lancashire can now be considered as one of the official options for the future of emergency care facilities in the region, following the Government announcement on funding for new NHS facilities.
The trust which runs the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospital is one of 21 which will share in £100m of so-called “seed funding” to draw up business cases for major building projects – which may include entirely new developments or the gutting and refurbishment of existing sites.
The NHS in the region is currently attempting to draw up a shortlist from a total 13 options about how emergency and acute services will be split between the Preston and Chorley sites.
Options for Chorley Hospital to retain its accident and emergency unit remain on the table, but have been deemed “not clinically viable”. Alternatives include replacing it with one of two versions of urgent care centre.
But the option to pursue a new hospital on a single, central site – to replace both the Royal Preston and Chorley Hospital – has previously not been included on the list, because no cash had been secured to make it a reality.
The Government announcement over the weekend that it would build 40 new hospitals was questioned in some quarters – because only six projects have been allocated funding to start work. The other 34 – including that for Central Lancashire – will get the money for the design phase, but the new hospitals themselves could be a decade away.
Jonathan Wood, director of finance at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, said he welcomed the “funding to help us develop a business case to replace [our] ageing infrastructure” – but stopped short of confirming whether the long-term prospect of a new hospital changed the short-term plans to redesign local services.
“Whilst the funding at this stage is limited to building the longer term case for change we hope that the case will be met with a future approval for funding,” Mr Wood said.
“We will continue to work with our partners across the Central Lancashire health and care system through the Our Health Our Care programme to consider, with an open-mind, the options for how we could reconfigure our services to deliver the best possible clinical outcomes for local people over the medium term.
“At this stage no decision has been made about these options and any options will be subject to public consultation,” he added.
But Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who has previously supported the idea of a super hospital, said more money was required in order to meet the needs of a growing population in the area.
“I’ve been making the case for investment in Chorley and South Ribble, but that has fallen on deaf ears,” Sir Lindsay said.
“The money is always coming tomorrow – and it’s never tangible for the people of Lancashire. I’ll continue to press the health secretary to say this is unfair and for him to continue to look at the situation.”
A recently-revealed blueprint for a super hospital, drawn up in 2016, put the price tag for such a project at £569m.
After deducting the £2.7bn allocated to the six hospitals which will get new buildings in the short-term, the other 34 projects would be left with just over £10bn between them, out of a purported total pot of £13bn – suggesting that Central Lancashire would have to receive a disproportionately large share if it were be allocated enough to construct a single-site facility.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers – which represents NHS trusts – said that it was sensible to allocate funding for planning the projects in order to ensure that the more significant sums needed for the new facilities themselves are well spent. But he warned that the cash available for schemes after 2025 was “less definitive” than that committed to the half a dozen trusts receiving allocations imminently.
“Clearly, given these [other] schemes are five years plus away, there is a much greater chance their funding might disappear [or] not get allocated. It’s much more difficult to resile from a Treasury Red Book commitment than a press release from party conference time,” he said.
But speaking to Channel Four News, the health secretary Matt Hancock MP, said it was not misleading to say that 40 new hospitals would be created.
“We’ve signed off the approval – and we’re going to build those hospitals. We don’t know how much each will cost, because they need to do the planning work – so we’ve given them the money to do [that] planning work,” Mr Hancock said.
The office of South Ribble MP Seema Kennedy was approached for comment.