A major new hospital was due to open in Grove Lane, Smethwick, early next year. The 669-bed Midland Metropolitan Hospital was to have 15 operating theatre suites and offer maternity, children’s and in-patient adult services to half a million people in the Black Country and west Birmingham.
But the opening has been delayed.
Local NHS managers now say it’s unlikely to be ready for patients before 2022 at the earliest.
That’s because construction stopped in January, and still hasn’t resumed.
Although the hospital is two-thirds completed, for all intents and purposes it’s nothing more than an abandoned building site.
In a sense, construction is actually going backwards. The unfinished building is currently exposed to the elements and that’s causing damage which will need to be repaired.
It’s a scandal.
But there’s little sign that anything’s being done.
Would this be allowed to continue if the hospital was in London, within easy reach of Westminster tube station? One can only guess, of course, but I suspect not.
Meanwhile, costs are increasing. The delay itself will add 125 million to the bill for building the hospital, according to Toby Lewis, chief executive of Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust.
And another 25 million is expected to be needed to repair the weather damage and other deterioration.
There’s also a cost to patients.
Services from City Hospital in Birmingham and Sandwell Hospital were due to be transferred to the Midland Metropolitan Hospital.
Those are both old facilities, and not up to modern standards in some respects (although they won’t close entirely even once the new hospital is up and running).
And they had trouble attracting staff. The imminent arrival of a new, state-of-the-art facility changed all that, according to Mr Lewis.
He said: “Trying to stretch our staffing and resources across two hospitals is difficult.
“The certainty of having a single hospital site means that we can provide better quality services. It also means that staff want to come and work for us.
“Over the past year we have hired over 130 new nurses, many of them attracted by the promise of coming to work in purpose-built facilities.
“Every month that goes by where there is uncertainty and delay eats into our ability to deliver high quality services.”
Those comments aren’t new. That’s what the head of the hospital trust said back in April. But still, nothing has been done.
The initial cause of the problem was the collapse of Wolverhampton based construction giant Carillion, in January.
Carillion was building the hospital and was due to provide management services for 30 years, as part of a private finance initiative (PFI) contract.
Who exactly is to blame for that is a matter of debate.
A joint inquiry by the House of Commons Business Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee concluded in May that Carillion’s rise and spectacular fall was a story of “recklessness, hubris and greed”.
Its business model was “a relentless dash for cash, driven by acquisitions, rising debt and exploitation of suppliers”, the committees said.
But a report this week by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee found there had been “long-term failures” on the part of the Government.
It seems ministers were so fixated on driving spending down that PFI contractors such as Carillion promised to provide services for less than they actually cost.
Whatever happened to Carillion, it doesn’t excuse the failure to get construction started again.
Everyone agrees that there’s going to have to be a cash injection – maybe 100 million – and that this can only come from the Government.
Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons on April 18 that she’d asked David Liddington, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, to get things moving.
Apparently health minister Stephen Barclay is also involved.
And Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who visited the West Midlands last week, has been in talks with the hospital trust.
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street has attempted to work his magic, and encouraged the Government to get a move on.
But so far, there’s no sign of progress.
We’re told an announcement is imminent – but we’ve been told that for some time.
Perhaps Brexit is taking all the Government’s attention. Or perhaps they just don’t care, The price is being paid by taxpayers and sick people in Birmingham and the Black Country.
Would this be allowed to continue if the hospital was in London, within easy reach of Westminster?
CREDIT: Jonathan Walker
Copyright Mirror Regional Newspapers Jul 12, 2018