Hospital development plans scrapped

AN ambitious long-running project to transform a major hospital and modernise healthcare provision in North Essex has been scrapped, a health trust admitted yesterday.

By Roddy Ashworth

AN ambitious long-running project to transform a major hospital and modernise healthcare provision in North Essex has been scrapped, a health trust admitted yesterday.

The £167 million private finance initiative (PFI) scheme, designed to centralise clinical services at the site of Colchester General Hospital, collapsed after being developed over a period of more than five years.

The much-heralded plan, which hundreds of staff had been involved in, would have seen the full closure of the out-dated Essex County Hospital and a huge building project at the General's Turner Road site.

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In a statement given to the EADT, Peter Murphy, chief executive of the Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust, said the decision was taken following a detailed review of the PFI scheme.

Mr Murphy said: “We need to be sure that the future plan for the hospital is the right one for the long-term.

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“The plan we have now needs to change to make it more affordable and the 'best fit' with the rapidly changing healthcare system.

“I am sure this will be a disappointing decision for some people because the project had received widespread public, professional and political support.

“However, it remains our strategy to centralise services on the site of Colchester General Hospital and we are about to start work on developing an alternative, more flexible, strategy to achieve this as soon as we can.

“Hundreds of staff made helpful and positive contributions to the design of the PFI scheme and feedback given by those working in areas such as cancer services and pathology will play an important role in informing this process.”

Reasons given for the change included:

n A new emphasis on patients receiving more care at home or within their communities rather than in hospitals;

n New rules that mean hospitals will be paid by the number of patients treated;

n A new treatment centre planned for Essex absorbing some of the trust's work;

n A shift in funding trends away from hospitals and towards primary care trusts (PCTs).

Commenting on Essex Rivers Healthcare board's decision, Mark Millar, director of resources and planning for Essex Strategic Health Authority (SHA) said: “We understand people's disappointment now but, given the way health services are moving, this is a prudent and sensible decision that will be better for the local community in the long run.”

Essex Rivers Healthcare has already informed Senate Health - the Trust's private sector PFI partner - local PCTs, patient and public involvement forums, Colchester Borough Council and MPs of its decision to pull out of the PFI project.

The decision has been endorsed by the SHA and the Private Finance Unit at the Department of Health.

Yesterday Bernard Jenkin, MP for North Essex, said: “This decision underlines the chaos that now exists in the health service.

“Labour ministers keep moving the goal posts - it is impossible for hospital trusts to plan for the future.

“Despite massive increases in the amount of cash given to the NHS, it is not getting through to the frontline because of the increased costs of bureaucracy, and cutbacks are being inflicted as a result.”

Bob Russell, Colchester MP, refused to comment.

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