PLANS to build a multi-million-pound hospital at Wynyard have been hit with a further delay after it emerged that a decision on Government backing is not expected for a further six months.
Bosses at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust say the news is “not a positive picture” as they were expecting to hear about approval for a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) for the £300m site within weeks.
Chancellor George Osborne is reviewing PFI schemes, and a decision will now not be due until July at the earliest.
In the meantime “frustrated” Trust bosses, who accused the Government of using a “stalling tactic”, are looking at alternative sources of funding including from private pension fund holders.
During a meeting of the Trust’s board of directors yesterday, commercial director Kevin Oxley said the Trust had been in touch with the Department of Health and the Treasury so they could “give some certainty to the board around the schemes”.
He said: “It will be May this year before we get any PFI guidance issued, and then that will need to be consulted on.
“With some disappointment, it looks as if the earliest we might get approval for our scheme is six months from now.”
He added: “We are looking at alternative funding arrangements for the hospital.
“We have had some fairly extensive dialogue with pension fund holders and pension fund managers.”
He said his department was due to meet today to discuss possible opportunities for pension funds “to effectively put up the capital to support a development such as ours”.
Mr Oxley said there would be an opportunity to determine whether the trust could use pension funds without referral back to the Department of Health and Treasury.
He added that using a pension fund could be “better value for money than traditional bank routes”.
Trust chief executive Alan Foster said: “Clearly, we haven’t got a clear way forward at the moment.
“We are pushing hard with pension funds to see if that’s something that could give an alternative.
“We are in a bit of a log jam at the moment with the Treasury review.”
He said the trust is “trying to leave no stone unturned to come up with the money”.
Trust chairman Paul Garvin said: “I’m immensely frustrated.
“We have spent two years chasing moving goalposts.
“Every time, we are almost there and if you were being paranoid you could say this was another stalling tactic”.
He said the Trust could not afford to keep putting off decisions, but he was sure their goal would be achieved.
After the meeting, Mr Oxley told the Hartlepool Mail private pension funding would not necessarily need Government backing as it does not require a “deed of safeguard”.
He added that this funding option had not been looked at previously as two years ago, private pension funds “weren’t interested in investing in infrastructure” including health schemes.
But he said this had changed because of the “volatility” of the world-wide economic crisis.
Keith Fisher, chairman of the Save our Hospital group, said: “My immediate reaction to another delay in accessing very expensive borrowed money to build something which we don’t want is that of pleasure.
“Professor Darzi said that a one-site option was a non-runner, and how right he was. It can’t even get off the starting blocks.”
The Mail has reported previously that the hospital plans were also affected last year when health minister Andrew Lansley ordered stricter tests for allowing PFI schemes.