A CASH-STRAPPED health trust is spending what has been described as an “obscene” £350,000 to relocate offices of its management and other services.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright says the cash for the “flashy” offices at the town’s hospital could have been better used keeping two hospital-based nurseries open for at least 18 months.
The repositioning of the rooms at the University Hospital of Hartlepool comes at a time when services are being stripped away and shifted to the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton.
But bosses at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation trust, which is £1.25m in deficit, say the move is part of centralising remaining services in the main tower block of the Holdforth Road site and will save £550,000 on running costs.
A disgruntled trust worker told the Mail that a number of offices, including a chief executive’s office with en-suite toilet, chairman’s office, a boardroom and administration offices, were being created at the town site on what was Ward 5, on the third floor.
It comes as a consultation is underway to close the day nurseries at the two hospitals, which have lost £764,000 in four years, with around 50 jobs at risk.
Union chiefs have slammed the move as “obscene”, especially in light of the proposed axing of the nurseries.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said: “The idea that £350,000 is being spent, speaking as an accountant, I can’t see where the savings are going to be made.
“£350,000 could keep the nurseries at Hartlepool and North Tees open for another 18 months.
“You have got a spending priority at a time when the NHS is starved of funds, and it wouldn’t be flashy offices.”
The worker, who did not wish to be named, said the relocation work included the stripping out of oxygen tubes from the ward’s former use.
Work to fit carpets in the offices was carried out on a Bank Holiday, but the trust says this did not incur any extra costs.
The worker said: “I can’t understand why Alan Foster is putting an office suite and other rooms in while they are talking about closing Hartlepool hospital.
“And he is trying to close the nurseries at the two hospitals, yet he has built these new offices.”
Unison area organiser Mark Edmundson said: “At a time when the trust is proposing to close two nurseries that provide essential childcare for trust staff and the local community and also make people redundant, the cost of these offices is simply obscene.
“Unison urges the trust to look again at the nursery closure; perhaps fewer new offices for the highest-paid executives at the trust would enable this lifeline for hard-working people to remain open.”
Alex Cunningham, MP for Stockton North, which includes North Tees, said: “I am very surprised that the trust would spend such huge amounts of money on offices at a time when they are contemplating cuts to things like nursery provision.
“If they are able to make savings of half a million pounds as a result, that’s money that could be directly invested in the nursery provision, which could be expanded, if there is a will to do that.”
The trust’s associated director of estates and facilities Peter Mitchell said: “Work is continuing to ensure we make best use of the buildings and space at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.
“The plan is to bring in as many services as possible into the main hospital building to improve security and quality.
“Services which have been occupied in the Hart Building including office space, meeting rooms, wheelchair services, ICT, the sewing room, medical records and domestic services are being moved into a space formerly used as wards in the main hospital building.
“The costs associated with the space utilisation work is £350,000. It is estimated that by moving these services and closing the Hart Building, the trust will save around £550,000 – money to be put back into patient care.”
The trust says the toilet associated with Mr Foster’s office was already there.