MIDLAND: Long, Winding Road to New City Superhospital; Mark Britnell, Chief Executive of University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, Remains "Very Optimistic" That Plans for the City's First Superhospital Will Go Ahead. He Spoke to Health Reporter Emma Brady about the Project's Future

The Birmingham Post (England), January 30, 2006 | Go to article overview

MIDLAND: Long, Winding Road to New City Superhospital; Mark Britnell, Chief Executive of University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, Remains "Very Optimistic" That Plans for the City's First Superhospital Will Go Ahead. He Spoke to Health Reporter Emma Brady about the Project's Future


Byline: Emma Brady

If he looks very hard out of his office windows, Mark Britnell can just about see the new pounds 559 million hospital which will replace three of the city's hospitals.

Actually what he can see are fenced off empty car parks, land being levelled and contractors desperate to get stuck into some "meaningful" construction.

Already pounds 30 million has been spent preparing the site, but the only building completed so far is a new pounds 12 million multi-storey car park.

After eight years steering the scheme through rounds of red tape and debate, he feels "a mixture of optimism, frustration and eager anticipation".

But work is in danger of coming to a halt if the Treasury fails to make a decision soon over whether the trust - which runs the Queen Elizabeth, Selly Oak and QE Psychiatric hospitals - can go ahead with its plans.

Coupled with a pounds 325 million Sainsbury's development in Selly Oak, plus an additional pounds 40 million invested by the supermarket, city council and trust in building new roads, this will be Birmingham's largest act of urban regeneration, costing nearly pounds 1 billion.

But if the contract between University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and private partners Consort is not signed by mid February, project costs could rise by up to pounds 49 million, resulting in the trust having to pay an extra pounds 3 million a year for the 35 years of the repayment period.

Before any additional expenditure, the total cost is expected to exceed pounds 1.7 billion

Despite being dogged by delays, objections and legal negotiations, Mr Britnell remains adamant that the Government will not let the Birmingham New Hospitals Project down at the last hurdle. Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt last week insisted the hospital will be built despite uncertainty over its funding.

The chief executive said: "This Government has backed our scheme since 1998, and I believe it will back us again, allowing us to sign contracts very soon.

"They have not let us down before with this scheme and I don't expect them to leave us in the lurch.

"The fact that this project has been delayed by nearly a year has been due to complex legal issues with Balfour Beatty, Monitor and Department of Health."

After UHB achieved foundation trust status, which affords hospitals the freedom to manage their own finances, it became one of the first to pursue a PFI scheme - which tested the limits of new legislation.

Mr Britnell explained: "I still feel it was the right decision to pursue and achieve foundation status. We are able to borrow up to pounds 77 million and can also keep land sale profits from Selly Oak, which is worth about pounds 50 million, which allows us to invest more in patient care.

"Before we applied for that, we checked to see if we could still enter into a PFI agreement and were told we could.

"But then a problem arose when Balfour Beatty raised concerns over the legal issue of vires - which relates to who picks up the tab if things go wrong. …

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MIDLAND: Long, Winding Road to New City Superhospital; Mark Britnell, Chief Executive of University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, Remains "Very Optimistic" That Plans for the City's First Superhospital Will Go Ahead. He Spoke to Health Reporter Emma Brady about the Project's Future
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