As islanders, health workers and politicians brace for news of whether rebuilding on the existing hospital site will get the go-ahead today, momentum is building behind another option claimed to be quicker, easier and cheaper to build on.
The long-awaited decision over whether development of a £466million Future Hospital should go ahead at its present Gloucester Street address will be announced by Environment Minister Deputy John Young today.
Revamping the current site rather than building afresh is the preferred option of Health Department officials, as Group Medical Director Rob Sainsbury explained in Express’s series ‘Inside the Future Hospital waiting room.'
But that idea has failed to receive widespread public and political backing, with hospital staff warning that construction works could pose a risk to patient wellbeing and recovery.
Pictured: The current Future Hospital proposal, which was previously rejected for being too large and out of keeping with its surroundings.
Others feared that building in town would leave little room for future expansion, and expressed concern that it would not be able to fit mental health facilities.
In response, a growing number of voices from within the medical and political ranks are now backing building at Overdale on Westmount Road.
Among those is Assistant Chief Minister Constable Chris Taylor, who led the panel behind an explosive report that exposed major deficiencies in the hospital site decision-making process, concluding that Overdale should be reconsidered as a location.
The St. Helier hilltop site had previously been one of the frontrunners to become the Future Hospital, but was rejected over accessibility fears.
However, the Constable thinks that it could be the solution if examined afresh. In its final instalment of ‘Inside the Future Hospital waiting room’, Express examined the possibilities offered by the area…
Overdale, which is based on Westmount Road, has an overall area of around 63,000sqm – roughly three times the maximum size of the General Hospital development.
It currently houses a number of health facilities, including a rehabilitation centre, and diabetes and memory clinics, but Constable Taylor says that many don’t realise that the site extends much further back.
In addition to these facilities, the site contains over a dozen derelict buildings, notable by their flaking paint, boarded up windows and signs warning of asbestos inside. Constable Taylor says many were vacated without a plan for their future use, and so were left to fall into disrepair or simply used as storage for a jumble of unused, broken or obsolete medical equipment including old wheelchairs, stair lifts, bath hoists, and first aid practice dummies.
Pictured: many of the buildings at Overdale are now in serious disrepair.
“It’s an outrage,” the Constable told Express as he pointed to a cracked and greying two-floor build. “I’m a States Member and I’m responsible for that building and it’s embarrassing… Boarded up. State of total disrepair. Completely neglected for many years. What’s the point of keeping these? We need to make use of this site. The best use of this site is the new general hospital."
Building at Overdale was rejected as an option due to its hilltop location, which was deemed to be difficult for emergency vehicles and patients to access. However, the Constable says that a dedicated access point could be constructed, linking the site directly to the inner road.
The road, he proposed, would begin in the area of the King George V Cottage Homes, running through the valley directly behind it, which he said would also have enough room for a multi-storey car park – contrary to previous concerns about access and parking.
Pictured: Constable Taylor argues there is plenty of room for parking on the site.
“You could probably park 300-400 cars there quite easily and you wouldn’t see them, they’re totally out of sight.”
Proposals to build on the current site were rejected by an independent Planning Inspector early last year because he felt it would be too big and out of keeping with the area. But Overdale would not have this problem, Constable Taylor said.
Its location would not only allow up to four storeys to be nestled out of view – visible only from a few areas of St. Aubin. It would also offer patients sea views and access to green spaces – things which have been proven to assist with recovery, and could compliment the hospital’s current ‘end PJ paralysis’ campaign.
Pictured: If developed, the site could incorporate access to the inner road.
The surrounding spaces would also help to ‘future-proof’ the site – a criticism of the current location – by offering enough room for facilities that the current hospital does not have, such as radiotherapy or an on-site mental health facility.
There is also space available at the front of the facility, with Overdale’s entrance currently overlooking a field that Constable Taylor suggested could be an ideal location for key worker accommodation. While this is not States-owned, the Constable said he understands the owner may be willing to consider a sale.
“The issue of staff accommodation is as important as the new hospital. Currently we’re 300 staff short in Health and the main reason why we’re short is that we haven’t got accommodation."
One of the biggest advantages, however, is the fact the construction process would involve minimal disruption to patients, given that most of the site is either “fresh” or unoccupied.
Constable Taylor explained: “It would be much easier to build here. There would be no disruption to patients, [and] no concerns about infection control… 85% of the staff working in Health do not want it built on the current site and we need to listen to them. They’re the people going to work here and we need to make sure we’re doing what they want and doing it with them at every stage.”
Building the Future Hospital at Overdale would also come at a significant cost benefit, the Constable said.
As the States own the site, building there would not involve compulsory purchase. Starting on a vacant site rather than working around current patients would also speed up the construction process, which would help bring down costs.
French architects AIA Life Designers have also said that building on an unoccupied site such as Overdale would also be cheaper.
After meeting with a Jersey delegation including the Constable, the firm, who estimate that building on a green site would cost around £200million, have offered to conduct feasibility studies at Overdale, St. Saviour’s Hospital and Warwick Farm. This, they say, would come at a cost of £24,000 per site, or £60,000 for all three.
“There must be some merit in talking to them,” the Constable said. “If you look at it in the following way, both Plérin in France and Jersey in 2011 decided that they wanted a new hospital. They finished theirs two years ago, we haven’t put a spade in the ground… How those discussions would go is not my role but I think we should certainly have that discussion with them.”
But would progressing Overdale plans mean the nearly £30million spent so far on the progressing the Future Hospital at its current site be money out the window?
“No, there is a lot of work there that can be used because it would have to be done for a new hospital anyway. At the end of the day, do you keep throwing good money after bad? When do you draw the line and say, ‘Let’s look at some alternatives’?”
Of course, rescinding the previous decision to regenerate the current site – something decided after a painstaking, years-long process – is a huge decision, and one that needs political backing.
So is there an appetite among politicians? “I believe that the new States Members feel some of the money being looked at is unrealistic, and that they’re trying to shoehorn the hospital into a very small space.
“The other big advantage is in future, as and when we want to expand, there’s room to do so. We can always move the crematorium or the William Knott centre go to two storey, for example. The current programme does not contain anything for mental health, whereas this site would have mental health on it right from the start and I think that is a very important thing.”
He acknowledges that winning support from everyone may be a challenge, however.
“It’s hard to be positive when you’re saying no to project. That’s the difficulty we face: saying no to the current hospital while being positive.”
The Environment Minister is due to deliver his verdict on building on the current site this afternoon.
If he rejects the proposals, Constable Taylor’s idea could be a very real prospect.
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