However, at a meeting last night, Whipps redevelopment manager Alastair Finney said the hospital team had received “confirmation” that their project is “first or second” priority in the country.
Speaking before the Whipps Cross Joint Health Overview Committee, he said: “[The hospital] has planning permission in outline terms, which is a positive for the programme.
“It has added significantly to [its priority] in conversations we continue to have with our national colleagues, who under the radar have been putting these schemes into an order in which they might go first.”
Finney said this is thanks to “general stakeholder support” for a new hospital and a recently approved £28m plan to reduce future pressure on Whipps Cross by improving local health and wellbeing.
Councillors from Waltham Forest and Redbridge were not entirely reassured, expressing concern about how any delays could mean the project is impacted by growing inflation.
Committee vice-chair Beverley Brewer said: “I have to say that I am really concerned that we might end up with nice new roads and a new car park and nothing else, it is a major concern.
“When are we going to hear more about the time scale and when are we going to have a construction partner so someone can assure us when we are going to get the new hospital that we need? I know we’re looking at 2028 at least now.”
The Department of Health and Social Care is not expected to make any further funding announcements until December this year.
Finney said the national hospital programme team is aware of the “inflationary costs of delay” but that, in his view, the country’s political and economic environment is “getting more and more difficult”.
The committee also heard ongoing concerns from local campaigners that Barts Health, the trust which runs Whipps Cross, is refusing to carry out a full public consultation.
The trust insists consultation is unnecessary because there will be no “substantial variation in service” but campaigners fear the new hospital will not have enough beds to meet the needs of a growing population or the specialist end-of-life care it currently offers.
To address these concerns, a protocol has been drafted to guide how the committee and ‘NHS organisations’ should act when there is disagreement over whether any future changes are “substantial” enough to trigger a public consultation.
Chair of the campaign group Action4Whipps, Mary Burnett, called the draft a “procedural fudge” which had “totally failed” to address the question of when the general public should be consulted.
She added: “Whatever engagement Barts has done, it is striking that when we run stalls 50% of people have no idea Whipps Cross is being redeveloped.
“Typically they are appalled that they are not getting more beds but getting cuts and are shocked that it is being rebuilt.”
The committee did not approve the protocol as there was no “agreement from all parties” and Action4Whipps had pointed out that it did not refer to 2018 guidance from the NHS on when consultations are carried out.
Siobhan Harper, transition director for NEL healthcare partnership, told the committee a new strategy for end-of-life care is being developed to decide how the current Margaret Centre at Whipps Cross will be replaced.
She said: “The Margaret centre is an element of end-of-life care… we would be looking at a more end-to-end model.
“There are all kinds of components to an end-of-life model, bed-based may well be part of that model, but at the moment we’re not pre-empting that.
“We are working on a needs analysis and on affordability, the kind of things that people tell us that they want. At this point we’re not going to commit to [closing or changing the service] either way because we don’t know the answer.”
Councillor Brewer noted that she would “hate to see” the Margaret Centre, which is NHS-run, replaced by a charitable hospice service that is “subject to the vagaries of funding from members of the public”.