A health and wellbeing group have backed plans to focus a bid for major investment on Watford General Hospital.

The West Herts Hospital Trust and the Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group intend to bid for £350 million of NHS funding later this year to improve services in west Herts.

In recent months they have been looking at plans involving different levels of funding at new or existing sites at Watford General Hospital, St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead hospitals.

Earlier this month they did agree on an ’emerging way forward’ in which three sites would be retained and the bulk of the investment would be concentrated at Watford General Hospital.

And on Thursday (June 20) their view was formally endorsed by the Hertfordshire Health and Wellbeing Board, which brings together elected officials and staff from the NHS, adult social care and children’s services, public health and the police.

Backing the plan, board chairman Cllr Richard Roberts – who is the county council’s executive member for adult care and health – acknowledged that the proposals had to be addressed within the funding available.

He said:  “I think what you have put before us does give us confidence that there will be better, safer services at the end of it.”

He added it was important that the emergency and specialist services at Watford General – used by patients from across west Herts – were as good as they could be.

According to this 'emerging preferred way forward’ – previously referred to as ‘option one’ – services in west Herts would continue at all three of the trust’s sites.

At Watford there would be two new clinical buildings – including a new theatre suite, a new women’s and  children’s unit and a new ward block.

The existing Princess Michael of Kent building would be refurbished and there would be a purpose-built car park.

St Albans City Hospital would be refurbished to become an enhanced surgical facility – for planned surgery and cancer care – with improved diagnostic  services and additional two operating theatres.

And at Hemel Hempstead Hospital the existing Verulam building would be refurbished to offer medical services, for conditions such as rheumatology, diabetes and respiratory conditions.

Under this option, £298 million would be invested at Watford General, with the remaining £52 million shared between the St Albans and Hemel Hempstead sites.

At the meeting of the Health and Wellbeing Board, members were told the ‘preferred’ option had been backed by clinicians.

And it was noted that some services traditionally offered in hospitals were increasingly being delivered in communities – closer to people’s homes.

The CCG’s director of commissioning David Evans said the amount the trust could bid for would be limited to the trust’s turnover – which is how they reached the £350 million figure.

And when a question was raised about the level of funding, the hospitals trust deputy chief executive Helen Brown said that – even with additional funding – they would still have opted for the current plan for emergency and specialist services at the Watford site.

However she did acknowledge that if greater funding were available they may have looked at the addition of a single purpose-built planned care centre for other services, as outlined in another of the options.

She stressed that the £350 million funding that could be available would be more like a mortgage than a lottery win – costing the Trust £18 million a year. 

And, she said, even if they had been permitted to bid for £700 million, that would increase the annual cost to the trust to £36million.

During the meeting, chair of the Herts Valleys CCG Dr Nicolas Small said it was important to “grab” this funding opportunity or face the “grave danger” of not getting what they needed.

Backing the proposal, Cllr Teresa Heritage, the county council’s executive member for children, families and young people and a St Albans district councillor – acknowledged that every community would like its own new hospital.

She said: “But actually providing something in each of the major towns actually goes a long way to listening to what residents want.".

The boards of the West Herts Hospitals Trust and the Herts Valleys CCG will meet separately on July 11, to determine the form that the bid will take.