A Progress Report on Lichfield's New Hospital

The Society's final summer meeting on 20th July saw Sandra Walker, Director of Hospital and Community Services for the local Primary Care Trust, update over 40 members of the Society on the progress towards the development of Lichfield's new Community Hospital.

This 16.8 million project will see Hammerwich Hospital and Victoria Hospital closed and the St Michael's site substantially redeveloped for the new hospital. Good news, you will say. All of us must welcome new medical facilities but it was clear from her presentation and the subsequent questioning by the audience, that there are still concerns over the location of the new hospital and its detailed design.

Sandra explained that both the Hammerwich and Victoria Hospitals were well beyond their 'sell by' dates. They had been enlarged more than once and services at them had been rationalised. But part of the business case to the NHS financial planners has been that it was uneconomic to attempt to further extend the existing facilities and to continue to transfer patients between the three sites for treatment. So, all the facilities provided by the three hospitals will be integrated on a contracted St Michael's site. The number of beds will not increase, however, but stay at the same level as at present. However, new facilities will be added, including a much needed pharmacy and better outpatient facilities.

Sandra took us through the design of the new hospital and the construction timetable. Final details of the business case have yet to be cleared by the NHS financial planners and the District Council has to approve the final details of the planning permission. Sandra hoped that this could be done by September 2004. Some basic preparation works on site are now underway. She hoped that all building work would be completed by the Summer of 2006, followed by commissioning in that Autumn.

And what happens to the two redundant sites as well as land declared surplus on the St Michael's site? These, she said, would be sold for residential development. The finance thus raised would contribute to the cost of the new hospital. Quite simply, no contribution to the cost in this way means the NHS would not be able to fund the project. The audience were understandably concerned and confused over this approach. Where is the Government's much vaunted extra cash for the Health Service? Is it merely pump priming money to go towards finance raised by local primary care trusts for new projects? And will the loss of land at St Michael's to help funding mean that the site is too small to cope with the inevitable demand for extensions?

Sandra identified the areas of land at St Michael's reserved for extensions. But might extensions mean that more parking will be required? And what about public transport provision? Sandra told us that apart from small single deck buses, no larger, double deck buses would be able access the site. This prompted some concern since services might only stop at the site boundary, leaving not only the able-bodied, but outpatients and visitors alike to walk up to the main entrance, which is set some way into the site, in whatever the weather might offer. Further questions were asked about the traffic implications for Trent Valley Road. Would the proposed traffic lights help to maintain a smooth traffic flow? Would visitors attracted to the site (where the proposed 217 car parking spaces would attract a charge) increase congestion on the road? Would the bus services prove attractive enough (if they didn't enter the site) to encourage visitors (and staff) to use them or force a transfer to car use, thus increasing congestion?

Only time will provide us all with the answers to these questions.

Roger Hockney
July 2004