Leytonstone News

Whipps Cross rebuild ‘fully funded’ but still no timeline

Work on the new hospital had to be halted last year because of funding uncertainty, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Whipps Cross Hospital
Whipps Cross Hospital

The government has claimed that a new Whipps Cross Hospital building is “fully funded” but is still unable to provide a budget or timeline for it.

The Leytonstone hospital is due to be rebuilt as part of the government’s promise of “40 new hospitals” by 2030.

Last week, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the government has increased the new hospital programme budget from £3.7billion to “over £20bn”. He also claimed that preparation works at the new Whipps Cross Hospital site “can now proceed” despite being halted last summer because of the uncertainty over funding.

However, when approached for further details, a spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care refused to provide a timeline or budget for Whipps Cross. They told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that funding for specific hospitals will only be confirmed after a future government spending review.

In the £20bn announcement, Barclay argued the government will “massively speed up” building work by using a cheaper “standardised” design for all of the new hospital buildings.

He added: “There has been much debate to date on when hospitals start, but the more important issue is when schemes are completed.

“A standardised modular scheme has been shown to work in other sectors – for example, when building schools and prisons – and is widespread across the private sector.”

Doubts have already been cast over whether £20bn will be enough to cover the government’s hospitals pledge. According to a Health Service Journal report last month, the hospital-building programme will likely cost around £35bn. Whipps Cross Hospital redevelopment director Alastair Finney told the Journal that costs for his project alone have now escalated to at least £900m.

Campaign group Action4Whipps said: “This would’ve been really welcome news a year or so ago, so it might be worth asking ‘why now?’.

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“Might it be a result of pressure from MPs who are worried about keeping their seats?  Especially when faced with disgruntled constituents who can see no sign of their promised new hospital.

“So maybe Whipps will get a new car park before the general election – then we’ll be back to how much funding and when.”

Barclay’s latest pledge adds to a list of contradictory statements over funding for the new hospital. During a visit to Whipps Cross in August last year, he announced he had approved “up to £28million” for the first stage of the project, a new multi-storey car park. But in January this year, he said specific hospitals are unlikely to be funded until “after 2025”.

The government spokesperson now says the department will work to approve plans for the car park “as early as possible”. The health secretary has meanwhile blamed “uncertainty” around funding on the need to reprioritise five hospitals built with an unsafe type of concrete.

Whipps Cross redevelopment director Alastair told the LDRS his team has already carried out a “huge” amount of design work on the new hospital, which was granted outline planning permission in late 2021.

He added: “Once the detailed plans and next steps are agreed, we will produce our business case and submit it to the government for approval.”

Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs Whipps Cross Hospital, has refused to publish its business case, with concerns that the new hospital’s size has “grossly underestimated” future demand.

In a press release accompanying the health secretary’s announcement last week, the government claimed it was still “on track” to deliver 40 new hospitals by 2030. The original pledge was made nearly four years ago, in the run-up to the 2019 General Election.

Two of the 40 hospitals are now complete, five are “in construction” and 20 will be underway “by next year”.

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