Multi-site hospital: ‘Money put before health’

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THE government is ‘putting money ahead of health’ in its preferred multi-site hospital, according to the former minister with responsibility for the discarded Overdale project.

Deputy Lyndon Farnham said that it was clear that the government could not give any assurance that their alternative scheme would turn out to cost less than the Overdale development which received planning permission last year and he claimed it might take ‘twice as long’ to complete.

‘If we look at the cost of investment in Health over 40 years at £15 billion to £20 billion, a hospital costing £800 million or £900,000 or even a billion is not unrealistic.

‘If we had not been held up we could have borrowed at lower rates. The delay caused has added to the costs,’ Deputy Farnham said, adding that the government should ‘be honest’ about the capital and running costs of its phased solution.

The Deputy was speaking after he launched a new attack on the phased hospital at the latest Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel hearing.

He challenged Treasury Minister Ian Gorst to give an assurance that the multi-site scheme would not cost more than the original Overdale development.

‘After listening to the Treasurer, it’s quite clear that now the new government wishes – if they want to build it [as] a phased project – to make sure we’ve got enough money. We are very clearly – very clearly – putting money ahead of health,’ Deputy Farnham said.

Describing the existing facilities at Gloucester Street as ‘a Third World hospital’, the Deputy repeatedly pressed the Treasury Minister for assurances over the cost of the alternative scheme – preferred both because it can be delivered in phases and also because of forecast savings.

But Deputy Gorst said it would be ‘foolhardy’ to give such a guarantee because of the current economic circumstances, and he rejected the suggestion that the decision to reverse the decision to build at Overdale was political.

‘The decision to not go ahead with the contract and the design and delivery partner was … entirely premised on the fact that the economic circumstances had changed and that that contract [for] that hospital could not be built for £804 million. It was £920m at the best with a fair wind and no change in interest rates.

‘We know that even during the course of what would have been a more prolonged negotiation – that’s providing the relationship actually stood up and one wanted to continue with that … partner – it couldn’t be delivered,’ Deputy Gorst said.

He was also pressed by panel chair Deputy Sam Mézec about whether there had ever been a serious political conversation around the Council of Ministers’ table about reverting to the Assembly to ask for a new spending limit to proceed with the Overdale development. ‘Or were the discussions …predicated on an assumption that you weren’t going to consider that option seriously?,’ the chair asked.

‘They were predicated on an assumption which was … that there should be, because of economic circumstances, a review of the current scheme. That’s my position. I have been clear about that. That’s why I supported the review being undertaken, Deputy Gorst responded.

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