Preston politicians react to ‘new South Ribble’ hospital location

Posted on - 31st May, 2023 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Fulwood, Health, Politics, Preston News, Sharoe Green, South Ribble News
Royal Preston Hospital Emergency Department Pic: Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Royal Preston Hospital Emergency Department Pic: Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

The new Royal Preston Hospital will be built somewhere in South Ribble, the borough’s MP has said.

Katherine Fletcher told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that a number of possible sites had been shortlisted – and they are all within the South Ribble Borough Council area.

The Conservative MP was speaking after the announcement last week that the government had backed a Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS bid to construct two entirely new hospitals to replace both the Royal Preston and Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

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As the LDRS revealed, the focus of the search for a suitable plot for the Preston facility has been to the south of the current hospital in Fulwood. The health service in the region has previously said that the replacement will be somewhere within a 10-mile radius of the existing site.

However, it now appears certain that the new building will spring up beyond the borders of the city whose name it bears.

Ms. Fletcher said that a replacement hospital was “really brilliant news” for the wider Central Lancashire area, while also telling Prestionians that it could be “genuinely better” for them that it is to be built in South Ribble.

“Putting a brand new, net-zero, state-of-the-art hospital on appropriate transport links [in South Ribble]…will probably be easier for many people in Preston to get to than a bottlenecked Preston site,” the MP posited.

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However, Preston City Council’s leader has warned that the contrasting health and economic profiles within the sub-region should be factored into any decision over the new hospital’s location – and said that he would be pushing for the facility to remain in Preston.

“Out of the three authorities [in Central Lancashire], Preston has higher levels of ill health,” Matthew Brown told the LDRS.

“We have got quite a large, diverse population and, as we saw during the pandemic, there are many in our minority communities who suffer disproportionately in terms of [their] health.

“I think we need to look at the social determinants of ill health when more of the population [in Preston] is less well off. Chorley and South Ribble are a lot more prosperous.

“There are also the economic benefits a new build would bring [to whichever area it is built in], so I really do think that the Secretary of State needs to place some weight upon that,” Cllr Brown said.

The Labour town hall leader also added that if the hospital did end up being moved to a neighbouring local authority area, it was vital that it was accessible to the people of Preston.

“Will there be proper transport links? It’s early days, but there will be discussions and negotiations, I would presume, across Central Lancashire with local government leaders and NHS officials and others,” he said.

The construction of an entirely new hospital on a site somewhere other than the Royal Preston’s current home on Sharoe Green Lane will constitute a major change to health services in the area – meaning that it will be subject to a formal public consultation.

The proposed location for the new facility will form part of that process, but the LDRS understands that a range of site options will not necessarily be put to the public if a preferred one has already been selected upon by NHS leaders by that point. In that instance, residents will be consulted over any concerns that they have about the chosen plot and how those can be resolved.

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Last October, Jerry Hawker, senior responsible officer for the Lancashire and South Cumbria New Hospitals Programme, stressed the complexity of finding a suitable site.

“Radiotherapy centres effectively have nuclear bunkers, so the ground conditions and the utilities have to be right.

“But there’s always going to be the focus…[on] a site having good access and good transport [links]. So we’ve got to find the right balance [and] it’s important that people realise you can’t just build a hospital anywhere,” Mr. Hawker told the LDRS at the time.

Although the government has committed to new-build hospitals for Preston and Lancaster, it also revealed last week that the Lancashire schemes were amongst eight that would not now be completed until after 2030 – the initial planned opening date for the 40 “new hospitals” that were promised in October 2020.

Read more: NHS staff walk 11-miles for Royal Preston Hospital dialysis funds

John Potter, the Liberal Democrat group leader on Preston City Council, said that that delay was a big enough blow – and that residents must not be subjected to another one.

“We need to make sure that the people of Preston are not punished twice in regards to the much-needed new hospital.

“The Conservative government have already broken their promise on delivering [it] by 2030 and now there are rumours that the new site [will be] away from the city.

“The new hospital site must have easy, reliable and affordable transport links with good access from public transport and the motorway system.

“With a tired and shambolic government, along with an invisible Labour Preston MP, we need to make sure this important decision serves the people of Preston and Central Lancashire,” Cllr Potter said.

The city’s MP, Sir Mark Hendrick, was last week approached by the LDRS for comment about the revised completion date for the hospital, before the claim was made that it would be based in South Ribble.

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Meanwhile, Sue Whittam, Conservative opposition group leader at the town hall, stressed that public involvement must be key in deciding the location for the new hospital.

“It is really important that all our residents have access to the health services they need and I do agree that a new hospital is needed to deliver these vital services. Wherever the new hospital is situated, it is vital that their needs are met.

“However, any final decision must be subject to a full consultation to ensure that the right decision is made,” Cllr Whittam said.

Katherine Fletcher added that the “modular” construction proposed for the new hospital meant that completion by the early 2030s was a more realistic prospect than starting from scratch now on a yet-to-be-designed facility and bringing it to life by the end of the decade.

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