Mr Lansley laughed off claims that a future Tory government would close Watford General Hospital and also moved to quash suggestions that acute health services could revert back to Hemel Hempstead.
However, he did confirm that existing funding plans for a proposed £300million new hospital at the campus site would be radically changed, with the “failed” private finance initiative (PFI) currently on the table replaced with a more traditional model.
Speaking to the Watford Observer, he made a clear rebuttal to recent comments by Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning suggesting acute services could be moved back to the town and away from Watford.
He said: “There is no basis on which you could build a hospital of this scale in Hemel Hempstead now, leaving aside the disruption to clinical services that would imply.
“If you were to look at the overall distribution of the population across west Hertfordshire, it is simply untenable that that would be in the best location for the greatest number of people.
“Mike is going to continue to pursue this because he has seen a considerable reduction of services immediately available to his constituents. That is entirely fair on his part. But he knows – and I know – that there is no prospect of major acute services being other than in Watford.”
Mr Lansley also described as “desperate” suggestions by the town’s Labour MP Claire Ward that a future Tory government would close down or even demolish Watford General Hospital.
What he did not do, however, was promise a direct government funding boost for the project, or say without qualification that the project would go ahead.
He added: “In principal this is a project I support. In practice it just requires three things. It requires the public in west Hertfordshire to say they support it; it requires the trust as a whole [the West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS trust] to meet the necessary conditions to be a foundation trust; and it requires an outline business case clearly to be viable.”
The first of these criteria may be easily attained. The other two, however, remain a work in progress. The trust continues in its efforts to secure flagship Foundation status (allowing it greater financial and decision making freedoms); and the issue of funding also needs to be finalised – which ever party forms the next government.
Although not in a position to give detailed funding proposals, Mr Lansley made clear his opposition to the classic PFI model currently in placer.
He said: “PFI, from the point of view of a major NHS trust, has never fulfilled their purposes. There has always been an issue in generating the capital needed, particularly at moment.”
The project, he concluded, would be “put together on the basis of phased development, with no PFI but with private partners.”