Health trust publishes new Whipps Cross plans

A vision for how a new Whipps Cross Hospital site could look, including a high street and new housing
A vision for how a new Whipps Cross Hospital site could look, including a high street and new housing

Intention to reduce bed numbers at Leytonstone hospital confirmed in report by Barts Health Trust, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter

A newly-released report on the proposed Whipps Cross University Hospital rebuild explains why bed numbers could be cut by around 50 – despite a growing local population.

Barts Health NHS Trust, which manages the hospital, has published its vision for the “once-in-a-lifetime” redevelopment. It forms the first part of the ‘business case’ which has now been approved by government, with a more detailed submission due to be drawn up next year.

The current Whipps Cross site in Leytonstone had 576 beds available on average in 2018/19, while for the new hospital the trust says it has now “adopted an assumption of 525 beds”. The local population is expected to grow by 10% over the next decade but the trust expects improved care out of hospital and faster treatment will reduce the number of beds needed. It insists the new hospital will be able to increase capacity when required.

The new hospital will be constructed on the site of Whipps Cross’s disused nursing accommodation, allowing usual service to continue unaffected in the existing building throughout. By reducing the size of the current “sprawling” site – parts of which predate the founding of the NHS itself – the trust will make room for around 1,500 homes, half of which will be affordable, to contribute towards the cost of the rebuild.

Work could begin as soon as 2022 and finish in 2026, if all funding is secured and planning permission obtained. Demolition of the nurses’ block is set to begin before the end of this year, with permission for the work already granted.

Barts chief executive Alwen Williams said: “I’m delighted the government has endorsed our strategic outline case. This means we have the ‘green light’ to develop our proposals in more detail.

“It means we are one step closer to our goal – a brand new state-of-the-art hospital situated within a wider health and wellbeing setting alongside much needed new homes, bringing real benefits to the local community.”

The trust expects that by speeding up treatment and reducing the number of people who become sick enough to be admitted to hospital, it can cope with fewer beds. The new report, Building a Brighter Future for Whipps Cross – Moving to the next stage, reads: “Our local partners plan to improve care and support outside of hospital, so we expect more people will avoid having to come to A&E than would have been the case, because they will be better supported in or closer to their homes.

“For example, our partners in Waltham Forest and Redbridge are working to improve care for people with long-term conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis or chronic asthma.

“The effect will be less people reaching the stage where they need hospital and those already there will be able to be more quickly discharged safely.”

Barts also expects more patients to be seen and treated on the same day rather than admitted, thanks to doubling the capacity for tests with more CT (computerised tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanners. The report adds: “We would anticipate the overall amount of days that patients spend in a hospital bed could fall by 10% over the next ten years.”

A petition launched earlier this year called for the trust to include more beds in the rebuilt hospital and received more than 5,700 signatures. Waltham Forest Save Our NHS campaigner Mary Burnett said: “There is a mantra that we do not need more beds because everything can be done in the community, which is outrageous actually.

“You can’t get an appointment with the GP because we do not have enough. Social services are on their knees and staff in social care are not nursing staff.

“What’s really concerning about this is when things go wrong in the hospital it gets picked up, but if an elderly person dies at home because they did not have the treatment they needed, the responsibility for it can become much more complex.

“We need a new hospital but if we get one with not enough beds, we will still have people waiting on trolleys to be admitted.”

Barts will receive at least £350million from the government over five years to fund the rebuild of Whipps Cross, one of six hospitals in the country to receive extra funding as part of a package announced before last year’s general election. Further government funding will likely be needed, however.

This autumn, Barts is hosting a series of large virtual public events in partnership with local councils to gather views and further shape the plans. For more information go to bartshealth.nhs.uk/future-whipps