Anxious wait for government funding to transform Luton and Dunstable Hospital

Work is needed to replace old facilities

By Euan Duncan
Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 1:31 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 1:32 pm

A funding deadline is approaching as part of the £99.5m investment to transform the Luton and Dunstable Hospital site, a meeting heard.

The project has received full planning permission and a two-and-a-half year construction programme is set to begin in January.

Aspects of the redevelopment, including improvements to a car park on Lewsey Road, have been finished already, Luton Borough Council' s health and wellbeing board was told.

"We're all good to go as long as we can obtain the money from central government," explained redevelopment programme director for Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust David Hartshorne.

"To get the finance we need to have the full business case for the scheme approved.

"This was submitted last month (September) and we want to get it through the system by January. Building a new hospital wasn't viable."

The trust simultaneously has received a £17m funding boost to support expansion of the emergency department by the end of 2022.

"This is a really challenging scheme for us because we can't impact at all on the operation of the urgent care department," he said.

"So we're having to build a bit, move a bit, in a building constructed in the 1960s. The first phase will be completed by Christmas.

"This will eventually increase waiting room capacity and have dedicated mental health facilities."

The current premises opened in 1938. "It had two wings, and two theatres were provided because they never wanted to run out of theatre capacity again," he revealed. "When we've finished the redevelopment, we'll have 21.

"We've got about 800 beds and 4,500 staff at the hospital. We're a great performing trust, but we've got some really rubbish estate.

"We want more capacity across the site, particularly in maternity and the neonatal intensive care, where life is constrained by the old facilities.

"We want more sustainability while improving the quality. We started on a greenfield site, but residential expansion has hemmed us in.

"So we're having to knock something down and build something new," he added. "There's been some ad hoc development over the years. As soon as people had money they spent it.

"There's a backlog maintenance figure of about £90m on the old buildings. Against this background we've an increasing older population, and acute services are getting more complex and technologically advanced.

"Patient expectations are growing and people want to see a better level of service. There's also a clinical case for change.

"We've to maintain separation between male and female and old and young. It becomes increasingly difficult to do within the current constraints.

"Healthcare staff are limited in numbers and we need to attract and keep people to run services.

"And we've to be flexible. As life changes, we must adapt to the way healthcare develops and the requirements of the population grow."

Labour Lewsey councillor Hazel Simmons, who chairs the board, said: "I know my residents are grateful over the new parking arrangements, which was a big issue there."

Council chief executive Robin Porter appreciated the positive progress made, saying: "New build constrictions are really difficult to get right. Redevelopment is harder.

"And the hardest of all is the redevelopment of an operational hospital site. It will be a difficult project."

Labour Saints councillor Javed Hussain asked about the helipad, which has been delayed.

Mr Hartshorne replied: "We still have plans to build the helipad. It's extremely difficult to find any space to support that project, but it remains an aspiration for us."