Hospital bosses have formally backed plans to bid for £350 million of NHS funding  – most of which would be spent on Watford General Hospital.

The “milestone” decision was taken at a meeting of the West Herts Hospitals Trust’s board this morning (Thurs).

If the plan is backed by a meeting of the Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group later today – the first stage of the bid will be submitted by the end of the month.

Campaigners for a new single site hospital for west Herts have vowed raise the additional funds themselves.

And although hospital bosses say they won’t close the door on the idea, they say they will now push ahead with the bid to invest in all three sites.

At the meeting, hospital trust chief executive Christine Allen said: “While I understand the desire for a new hospital, given the funding constraints [. . .] my view is that we cannot wait any longer. We have to get on and make some changes.

“This is not necessarily the perfect solution, but it’s essential we grasp this opportunity and therefore my support goes to ‘option one’. It gives us the best chance for funding and enhancing services.”

As part of the bid, up to £300million would be earmarked for Watford General, where it would mean two new clinical buildings on the Vicarage Road site, including a new theatre suite, a new women’s and  children’s unit and a new ward block.

It would enable the existing Princess Michael of Kent building to be refurbished and the addition of a purpose-built car park. A portion of land at the site would be sold off for housing.

Meanwhile St Albans City Hospital would be refurbished to become an enhanced surgical facility – for planned surgery and cancer care – with an additional two operating theatres, and significantly improved diagnostic services.

At Hemel Hempstead Hospital, the existing Verulam building would be refurbished to offer medical services, the Urgent Care Centre would move to a different building and land would be sold off for development of up to 250 homes.

Hospital trust deputy chief executive Helen Brown said the decision to concentrate funding on the Watford site reflected the volume and complex needs of patients who were treated there.

The hospital has 800 of the trust’s 920 beds, a busy A&E and around 100,000 emergency admissions a year.

It also, she said, reflected the “significant estate challenges” at the site, where 80 per cent of the buildings are assessed to be “poor” or worse.

“We know the environment at Watford is not what it should be,” she said. “There are issues at Hemel Hempstead and St Albans – but not to the same extent.”

At the meeting Ms Brown reminded the board that they had been trying to secure the investment for more than 10 years.

She said that when they submitted a bid of up to £600million to the regulators in 2017 they were told it wasn’t affordable – for the country , the NHS or the trust.

And she said they had now been told they should be looking for investment of no more than £350 million.

However she did acknowledge the “strong body of opinion” that supports the idea of a new emergency care hospital.

The board had formally ruled out the option of a new singe site hospital in May. And since then they have focused on four shortlisted options – before agreeing on this option as the ’emerging way forward’ in June.

If the bid was to be accepted and approved by the Government, it is estimated that construction work could start by 2022 – with the work complete by 2025.

“It’s important to note that while this is an important milestone, there is still a long way to go,” said Ms Brown.

It is estimated that the building changes will increase the hospitals revenue income by around £5million a year – which will help it to break even.