Labour’s Watford parliamentary candidate has launched petition calling for the Government to step in and fund the regeneration of the town’s hospital.

Matt Turmaine said hundreds of residents had signed the petition, which calls for Watford General Hospital to be turned into a "world class" facility, when he and other activists took to the High Street at the weekend.

The petition provoked a vociferous response from the town’s Conservative MP, Richard Harrington, who said it displayed Labour’s "complete lack of understanding" about the situation around the hospital.

Watford Observer:

Dorothy Thornhill: Petition "is not based on facts".

Watford’s Liberal Democrat elected mayor, Dorothy Thornhill, also criticised Labour’s petition, saying it was making a "bogus" point and was not "based on facts".

Following the petition’s launch, Mr Turmaine said: "Five years have passed and still there is no funding in place to rebuild and modernise our hospital. The last Labour government's guarantee of funding has been torn up by the coalition government but there is no viable alternative in place. At this rate there could another five years of indecision.

"Watford deserves a world class hospital. If our Tory MP and Lib Dem mayor won't campaign for funding then I will."

Plans to rebuild Watford General have been under discussion for more than a decade under the guise of the health campus scheme.

Under the last Government, a plan was drawn up to build a new 600-bed hospital with a 500-home development on the land behind Vicarage Road under private finance initiative (PFI) scheme.

However that scheme was scrapped during the recession and PFIs have since been abandoned by the Government as a method of renewing infrastructure.

Watford Borough Council has since drawn up a new health campus scheme, which relies on a partnership with private developer Kier.

Under the current plans the number of homes has gone up to around 700 and the previously protected Farm Terrace Allotments have been thrown into the plans to make the scheme viable for the developers.

Watford Observer:

Could this be the future of hospital provision in Watford?

Yet uncertainty remains over the hospital element of the current health campus. West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust has delayed the release of its clinical strategy, which will outline its proposals for the hospital, until as late as mid-2015.

Meanwhile the hospital trust has run into financial difficulty and is also dealing internal problems after a recent health report found it failed five out of six care standards.
This week Mr Harrington said the Government had already provided funding for the hospital to open a new maternity unit and access road and added it was ready to talk to the trust about more funding when it had finalised its clinical strategy.

Watford Observer:

Richard Harrington

He said: "This shows a complete lack of understanding from Labour yet again. I bought the Health Secretary personally to Watford General and he stated that he is ready to talk funding as soon as the proposal for the clinical view is received. There is no question about this. It is typical of Labour to ask for borrowed money without bothering to wait until they know how much they need, what they want it for, or how it will be spent."

Responding to the petition, Mayor Thornhill added: "It is a bogus point, absolutely a bogus point. The issue is not about funding at the moment. We should let the hospital deal with its affairs in their own time as they are not asking us to lobby for funding on their behalf.

"When they did (for funding for the new access road), we did and we got it. This is a spurious petition and not based on facts."