New hospital plans 'needed quickly'

HEALTH chiefs were urged last night to quickly rethink plans for hospital services in an Essex town after the collapse of a £167m project.Watchdogs fear the opportunity to dramatically improve patient services in Colchester - introducing the likes of a new emergency care unit and cancer centre - could be lost unless action is taken quickly.

HEALTH chiefs were urged last night to quickly rethink plans for hospital services in an Essex town after the collapse of a £167m project.

Watchdogs fear the opportunity to dramatically improve patient services in Colchester - introducing the likes of a new emergency care unit and cancer centre - could be lost unless action is taken quickly.

Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust axed a £167m private finance initiative (PFI) to centralise Essex County Hospital services on the Colchester District General Hospital site earlier this month in order to look for more “affordable options”.

But the Patient and Public Involvement forum for Essex Rivers Healthcare says it is “dismayed” with the decision, which would have led to improved services and facilities.


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In a statement, the group blamed a shift in Government policy away from traditional district general hospitals towards community-based services on the decision not to proceed with the PFI.

It said: “Neither the private sector bidders nor the Trust are at fault in the circumstances of government policy re-direction which will result in significant change to the local health economy.”

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The forum is now calling on the trust to come up with replacement plans quickly. Two major features of the scheme were an integrated emergency care centre and a dedicated cancer unit.

It is urging the Trust to look at a number of issues including:

nThe future of Essex County Hospital, where it claims “overcrowding is placing undue strain on the services on that site”, especially ophthalmology and cancer treatment.

nProblems associated with pathology services being off site at the moment.

nA clear explanation of how community-based delivery of healthcare will be organised and guaranteed.

Yesterday Richard Bourne, chairman of Essex Rivers Healthcare, said: “We are working very hard to get a new scheme up and running as soon as possible.

“Hopefully we will be able to say more in weeks rather than months.

“It is likely it will be a series of solutions which will be implemented when opportunities arise and funding becomes available.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “The decision to withdraw from the Colchester General Hospital PFI project is a matter for the local NHS. The trust is now pursuing alternative

arrangements to develop the hospital.”

Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, Colchester MP Bob Russell, a Liberal Democrat, has called for a debate on PFIs.

He said: “The scheme for the expansion of Colchester General Hospital through PFI collapsed last week, leaving the NHS with a bill of £3 million wasted and the private sector with a bill of £7 million wasted, which it is trying to claim back from the NHS.

“The result is £10 million lost, no new facility and the voluntary sector in the town, which provides so much support for the health service, being denied its revenue because the NHS says that it cannot afford it.”

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