HEALTH secretary Andy Burnham MP today visited Watford General Hospital to officially open the £12 million acute admissions unit (AAU).

Alongside Watford MP Claire Ward, Mr Burnham toured the bright blue building on the Vicarage Road site, and spoke to patients and staff before unveiling a plaque in the main reception.

Since it opened in March last year, all emergency patients in west Hertfordshire are taken directly to the 120-bed AAU, where they can be seen and assessed by a consultant 24 hours a day.

Professor Thomas Hanahoe, chairman of West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said he was “really chuffed” Mr Burnham was able to return to the hospital after his last visit as minister of health three years ago.

He said: “Your commitment to our NHS is second to none so it's entirely appropriate you're here this morning to open our new acute admissions unit, of which we're immensley proud.

“A lot of hard work has contributed to what is a really state-of-the-art facility for patients of West Hertfordshire. Last time you probably saw a trust in transition. That's no way complete. There's a lot of work to do including a new hospital here at Watford General. But during the three years there have been substantial changes and perhaps this is the biggest. One which is absolutely appropriate for our patients across West Hertfordshire.”

Mr Burnham recalled his last visit to the hospital, where he was taken to the roof of the main building and “thought I was going up there to agree to your Health Campus or get pushed off the building”.

He said: “It was clearly a trust in transition. There was a sense of uncertainty and the debate about change was going on. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to see the progress the trust has made.

“Your sense of professional pride in what's been achieved here is absolutely palpable. It's clear you know you're providing a higher status of care and safer care for people of Watford and West Herts.”

Mr Burnham also described Ms Ward as a “champion” of Watford General Hospital and the Watford Health Campus project.

He added: “I want to help in any way I can to achieve that vision and reward that hard work to give Watford a real state-of-the-art health campus.”