It’s "not an impossible ambition" Watford’s new Health Campus could be built in seven years, according to hospital chiefs.

The "struggling" NHS trust in charge of the hospitals at Watford, St Albans and Hemel Hempstead is due to finish the financial year £14 million in deficit - despite several short term ‘sticking plaster’ loans to keep the organisation solvent.

But West Herts bosses told The Observer that a complete redevelopment is not inconceivable for the trust to achieve in seven years.

Don Richards, chief financial officer of West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "I’ve worked in trusts where in five to 10 years they have managed a complete redevelopment from outline plans to buildings being completed. It is not inconceivable.

"From my experience just seven years is not inconceivable. Seven years is not an impossible ambition for us."

Mr Richards, who joined West Herts in June, said new buildings is the most financially viable option for the trust as the maintenance back log and repair bill is too large to carry out.

But the health trust’s part in the scheme, which also proposes to include 681 new homes, retail units and safeguarding land for the expansion of Laurance Haines primary school, will cost "hundreds of millions of pounds" to get off the ground.

Mr Richards said: "The Health Campus is a major redevelopment for the trust, overall we will need to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on sorting out the three hospitals - whatever configurations they end up in.

"But our building maintenance bill is so large that overall it is better value for money to invest significantly in new buildings."

However, Mr Richards admitted West Herts’ finances will get worse next year - as loans from the Government cease.

He said: "In the short term we need to continue having injections of cash, we need to continue what we’re doing at the moment and put together plans to reassure the NHS Trust Development Authority that we are doing as much as can be expected to become more efficient.

"If we justify the money we’re spending on our buildings and new equipment, they will provide the necessary cash for us to keep solvent.

"Next year things will get worse before they get better, our board papers will look worse because we’ve had revenue this year that won’t reoccur. It’s our cash balance and that deficit over the next five years we will be looking to improve."

Mr Richards said alongside financial pressures of the trust’s buildings, the cost of meeting new care standards as a result of recent NHS investigations - for example, increasing nursing staff - was a another cause of its current deficit.

He said West Herts spent £30 million on agency staff this year - because they cannot attract the required numbers to meet NICE guidelines.

Mr Richards said: "There’s no doubt about it - we are struggling. Everyone is struggling. We have made a conscious decision to meet new NHS standards, following the issues identified in the recent Mid Staffs inquiry. But the funding structure has not kept up with that."

He said the tariff the Government pays the hospital for treating patients has not increased with its rising standards of care - which has contributed to its spiralling deficit.

He continued: "The Government has overestimated the power to use the tariff as a lever for change."