The trust which runs the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospitals is to be given a share of newly-announced government cash to develop proposals for a new hospital in Central Lancashire.
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (LTH) is one of 21 trusts which will share £100m in so-called “seed funding” to draw up business cases for a total of 34 hospitals which would be built between 2025 and 2030 - some of which could take the form of gutting and entirely refurbishing existing facilities. It is not clear whether there are any guarantees to provide the necessary funding for the new buildings should the business cases be accepted.
READ MORE >>> These are the options for the future of Chorley A&E...
The trust has missed out on the greater certainty of being included on separate list of six new hospital building programmes which have been confirmed for the first half of the next decade.
The NHS in Central Lancashire is currently in the process of drawing up plans for the future of emergency and acute services in the region - focusing particularly on the A&E department at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital.
A total of 13 different options are currently under consideration, with a shortlist being drawn up ahead of a likely public consultation next year. The suggestions on the table include maintaining or increasing the opening hours of Chorley’s part-time A&E - both of which have been deemed “not clinically viable” - or closing the department and replacing it with one of two versions of an urgent care centre.
A joint meeting of the Greater Preston and Chorley and South Ribble clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) last month heard that it was not possible to include on the list the option for a so-called “super hospital” on a single site in Central Lancashire - because no government cash had been secured. However, members agreed to continue to investigate ways in which the necessary finance could be found.
It is unclear whether the promise of seed funding is sufficient for such a proposal to be formally considered as an option - and what impact the prospect of a new hospital in the long term would have on the more immediate plans for an overhaul, which would come into effect by 2024/25.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed last month that previously unpublished plans for a single hospital to replace both the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospitals - drawn up in 2016 - were then costed at £569m. The price tag for the proposed 1,100-bed facility would need to be adjusted for inflation and changes in demand, but documents recently presented to the CCGs concluded that the figure remained “broadly accurate”.
Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle, a vocal critic of the reduction in hours at Chorley A&E and any threat to its long-term future - has previously spoken out in favour of a super hospital.
LTH suffered a blow last year when it failed in a bid for just over £50m in capital funding to upgrade the facilities at its existing sites.
The government has said that its broad proposal for a total of 40 new or wholly renovated hospitals would cost £13bn. Boris Johnson has described it as "the biggest hospital building programme in a generation".
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers - which represents NHS trusts - said that it was sensible to allocate funding for planning the projects in order to ensure that the more significant sums needed for the new facilities themselves are well spent. But he warned that the cash available for schemes after 2025 was "less definitive" than that committed to the half a dozen trusts receiving allocations imminently.
"Clearly, given these [other] schemes are five years plus away, there is a much greater chance their funding might disappear [or] not get allocated. It’s much more difficult to resile from a Treasury Red Book commitment than a press release from party conference time," he said.
Attempts have been made to contact Central Lancashire’s CCGs and LTH for comment on today’s government announcement.
The Department for Health was contacted for clarification about the process which will follow the allocation of the seed funding.