Fears that Bedford Hospital will be the ‘poor relation’ after it merges with the Luton & Dunstable Hospital emerged at a meeting this week, provoking angry responses from Bedford’s politicians and health campaigners.
The merger process to create the new Bedfordshire Foundation Trust is moving ahead after the Government released £99million of capital funding in the summer.
But on Monday 7 October, Bedford Borough Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee was told this week that none of that £99million is coming to Bedford, which remains with a long-term debt burden.
At the same time as it has debts around its neck, Bedford Hospital is crying out for investment in its Accident & Emergency department, the committee heard.
Stephen Conroy, the outgoing chief executive of Bedford Hospital told councillors that they were hoping that the new trust would be able to plough surplus back into Bedford Hospital.
He said, “…I’m confident that the meagre amount of capital we need for the Bedford site can be found.”
Cllr Dean Crofts (Lib Dem, Kingsbrook) asked Mr Conroy: “There have been reports that the majority of the £99million will be spent in Luton & Dunstable, is that correct, and how much will be coming to Bedford?”
Mr Conroy replied: “That is correct and no, there’s nothing in Bedford for that, and that was never the basis for the bid.”
“Bedford has a three-year plan and funding is required for IT investment, new CT scanners, and to expand the A&E department, and for two more theatres.
“What we’re expecting in the new foundation trust is they will be in surplus from day one. Bedford has been in debt for most of the time I’ve been here, so we haven’t been able to reinvest any surplus in our site.
“The L&D has been in surplus and been able to reinvest tens of millions in its site. We are expecting that the new foundation will make a surplus and we will have another new opportunity to get capital for the Bedford site.”
Cllr Lucy Bywater (Green, Castle) said she was “thinking of Bedford as a poor relation” and “we will see how that works out.”
“I am grateful to Councillor Dean Crofts for exposing the fact that Bedford Hospital will not receive any of the £99m capital funding,” said Mayor Dave Hodgson.
“It is disgraceful, that once again the government is failing to support Bedford Hospital and it is left to local campaigners to stand up for the hospital and we will continue to do so.”
Mohammad Yasin, MP for Bedford and Kempston said,“I am very concerned that the funding for Bedford hospital remains vague and uncertain.
“I supported the merger precisely because I was assured that it would help to secure and indeed improve frontline services for Bedford.
“I have no issue with a merger of back office functions, as long as services are retained. But when funding issues are cited as a reason for the loss of the hydrotherapy pool, and the reintroduction of mental health beds to our area has been delayed for years, it’s difficult to accept that our local healthcare provision needs only a ‘meagre amount of investment’.
“Overall the government should be giving much more money to Bedford to improve NHS infrastructure, so that it can deliver a full range of services fit for the 21st century to meet the demands of an ageing population.”
Campaigner, Jenny Fenenley told the Bedford Independent, “Given that most, if not all of the capital funding deemed as essential to the merger is earmarked for the L&D and that the merger is technically a takeover of Bedford Hospital, are we really supposed to believe that the long term plan ISN’T to make the L&D the primary location with Bedford as an outpost?
“I have asked the Health Secretary to meet with me so that we can get to the bottom of this, and will be requesting the same from the CCG,” said Conservative parliamentary candidate, Ryan Henson.
“The Prime Minister has announced plans to invest billions in our hospitals over the next five years, so I am absolutely determined to make sure that Bedford gets its fair share, starting with the funds the Government has allocated for the merger.”
Speaking of the redevelopment of the L&D site, Mr Conroy said: “It’s going to take about five years to finish that and during that time we have to run a good service for all our patients and I think we’ve got a big challenge to deliver that change.
“But I’m confident that the meagre amount of capital we need for the Bedford site can be found.”
Mr Conroy said the first task with the merger is to combine the leadership teams of the new organisation. He expects this to be ready by April, which is when he will be stepping down. After then, he said the full merger will take about two years.
But he reiterated on a number of occasions during the meeting that “all services will stay on both sites. We’re not downgrading A&E, maternity, or paediatrics.”
By Local Democracy Reporter David Tooley
with additional words by the Bedford Independent