HEALTH chiefs admit they are “frustrated” at a delay in progress on a hospital at Wynyard after the Health Secretary refused to be drawn over a funding decision.
Health Minister Jeremy Hunt has refused to be drawn over whether a decision will be made on funding for the planned hospital before next year’s General Election.
Mr Hunt has defended delays to the planned £272m facility – insisting he must guard against another “PFI disaster”.
During a press conference by lobby journalists in Westminster, Mr Hunt said he was aware of “the popular support” for the project.
This is despite a 30,000-name petition opposing the closure of Hartlepool’s hospital to make way for the Wynyard scheme.
But he refused to confirm whether a decision would be made before next May’s general election, despite the application having been on his desk for a year.
Mr Hunt pointed to previous private finance initiative (PFI) schemes that had backfired at enormous expense to the taxpayer as the reason to tread cautiously.
Mr Hunt said: “I know what’s going on there, but I can’t say any more than to say it is under very close consideration.
“What I will say is that we are very careful about the business case for new hospitals now, because of the disasters we had with PFI under the last government.
“We ended up with a £73bn debt overhang in the NHS, a lot of which were very badly negotiated deals, so we really want to make sure the business case stacks up.”
Asked if a decision would come by the election, Mr Hunt said: “I’m very well aware of the need and of the popular support for that project. I can’t tell you an exact timescale, but we are on the case.”
But North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Alan Foster said: “We understand the need for thorough scrutiny of the business case because of PFI failings elsewhere.
“This is why we have done a great deal of work looking at the long term affordability of the hospital.
“More recently we were advised to go for a mixture of private finance and public dividend capital because it maintains the affordability of the scheme.
“We’re frustrated because the need for the hospital is not in question.
“Delays resulted in our doctors telling us we need to centralise services to enable them to meet quality and safety standards, services which, had the decision been made earlier, would have been brought together into a purpose built facility providing an ideal environment for patients.”
The planned Wynyard hospital would replace the University Hospitals of Hartlepool and North Tees, in Stockton.
The trust is seeking £100m of Government money to add to its PFI deal.
It comes after Hartlepool MP Iain Wright appeared yesterday’s Mail accusing the Government of “washing their hands” of the plan.