Hospital: Going back to where we started?

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IT is now ten years since a government report called A New Way Forward declared that Jersey needed a new hospital.

Nobody disagreed. It was accepted by staff, patients and politicians that the existing hospital in Gloucester Street was too old, too poor and too small for the future.

And its problems would only become more acute as the number of over-65s in the Island was expected to double by 2040. It was predicted that 300 hospital beds would be needed.

Then-Health Minister Anne Pryke said at the time: ‘The existing hospital is past its sell-by date and everyone, including staff and the public, agrees that it is in significant need of modernisation.

‘An older population will have additional healthcare needs and this is the challenge that the future hospital project is addressing.’

The disagreements came later – over the design, the cost and in particular the location of the new hospital.

Plans to build a new facility at the existing Gloucester Street site were twice rejected by successive Environment Ministers prompting a complete rethink of the project.

The last Council of Ministers opted for a new design at Overdale which – despite significant opposition from nearby residents – gained planning approval.

However, the election brought a new ministerial team with their own ideas and it now seems that the project has come full circle.

The proposals first put forward in October 2013 were for a new hospital across two sites. One would be on the existing site in Gloucester Street and the other would be at Overdale, off Westmount Road.

A supporter of those proposals at the time was then-St Peter Deputy Kristina Moore, who had been elected to the States Assembly just two years earlier.

Now, with Deputy Moore as Chief Minister, work on the agreed Overdale plan and the building of 106 new flats in Kensington Place, next to Gloucester Street hospital, has been halted, with the government due to take over that land instead.

Ministers say the hospital plans are now ‘under review’ and that the two-site option is back on the table.

The JEP front page 29thth May 2012

What were the 2013 plans?

Hopes were high when the two-site option was first proposed nine years ago. It was expected to cost £297 million – all of which could come from the States’ rainy day fund.

Building work was due to start in 2016 and – had everything gone to plan – the new hospital was due to be open by now.

Under the 2013 plans, major changes would have been made to bring the existing hospital up to modern standards. The aim was to separate emergency and in-patient, overnight care from out-patient day care, which would be provided at Overdale.

The refurbished hospital at Gloucester Street would have included:

  • Single-bed, private rooms.
  • Modern in-patient facilities.
  • Eight new operating theatres.
  • An accident and emergency department.
  • A refurbished maternity unit.
  • A new medical block added on to the main ward building.
  • A new day surgery.
  • A new paediatric unit.

Meanwhile, Overdale’s Westmount Centre, William Knott and Poplars buildings would have remained operational, but the site would have got several new buildings, including a major out-patient, rehabilitation and cancer care centre.

Overdale Hospital. Picture: JON GUEGAN. (34151394)

All patients given appointments for routine treatment without the need for an overnight stay would have been seen at Overdale.

What has happened since?

The two-site option was thrown out in favour of finding a suitable site which could encompass all the Island’s health needs in one building.

By 2016 politicians were still arguing about where the new hospital should be. The four options eventually shortlisted were the People’s Park, the Waterfront, Overdale and an eight-storey building on the existing Gloucester Street site.

Meanwhile, the projected cost kept rising. Gloucester Street was said to be ministers’ preferred choice but was likely to cost £600 million.

In December 2016 this version was agreed upon. Work was to begin the following year and be completed by 2022.

But the option was rejected twice, on the grounds of its visual impact and potential harm to people living in the area. The site selection process had to begin again, and in October 2020 – Overdale was chosen.

Many criticised the scale and appearance of the ‘hospital on a hill’, not to mention its expected £800 million price tag. But in May this year, the then-Environment Minister John Young gave it ‘conditional approval’, after an independent planning inspector concluded that the advantages of the site outweighed the disadvantages.

The States Assembly agreed to borrow up to £756 million to pay for it.

Now, Infrastructure Minister Tom Binet says the Island can no longer afford the option and a review considering what should happen next is now under way.

With Overdale halted, the original two-site plan could be back on and could broadly involve splitting in-patient and out-patient services as per the 2013 plans.

The review is to be brought before the States Assembly by 20 October.

The community group Friends of Our New Hospital always opposed the plan to build the new hospital all on one site in Overdale.

To Peter Funk, the group’s interim chair, the ideal site would have been St Saviour’s Hospital. He argues that it would have offered sufficient space and would have cost less.

Mr Funk believes the hospital scheme poses three questions.

‘We need to consider what the requirements are, where it can be built most efficiently, and whether it will cost less than the cost of Overdale. The requirements are around 250 beds, so many operating theatres and around 70,000 square metres of space. It could be over one site, two sites or three sites. To meet the requirements, that might be what we have to do.’

He added: ‘I think the public is concerned about location but it’s not simply a matter of location. What they really want is to get on with it.’

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