Doubt has been cast on the Watford General rebuild plans after it emerged there is no set date for vital government funding before the election.

The Department for Health and Social Care and West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust were both unable to confirm a specific timeframe – after former health secretary Steve Barclay promised a “fully funded” hospital in Parliament last May.

It is understood that the total amount allocated will be subject to approval of the Full Business Case by the Treasury. The DHSC says it “remains committed” to delivering the scheme.

Watford MP Dean Russell maintains "under a Conservative government the new hospital is certain" - following the next General Election likely to be this year.

Since being elected he's fought for agreement on funding for the scheme.

However, after initial excitement following Mr Barclay’s announcement, slow progress has stoked scepticism over whether it will be fully paid for with a general election looming.

Philip Aylett, coordinator for the New Hospital Campaign, said: “There can be no guarantee of funding for anything at Watford General”, adding: “A new government is likely to review all new hospital schemes and that could mean big changes to the trust's plans.”

The campaigner, who believes Watford General Hospital is the wrong site for a new or rebuilt hospital, said claims of full funding being secured are premature, given the cost will only be officially agreed after the Treasury approves both the Outline and Full business cases.

Watford Observer: The new builds would be constructed next to the current hospital site.The new builds would be constructed next to the current hospital site.

The trust’s estimated figure in 2022 was around £1.1 billion, which also included upgrades at St Albans and Hemel Hempstead hospitals.

Watford’s Liberal Democrat mayor Peter Taylor said: “The government must get on with this. We have waited for far too long for the modern facilities that patients, staff and visitors deserve.

“The date when the full funding will be in place must be confirmed now so that all of us can get on with delivering the new hospital we have been promised for so many years.”

The DHSC was asked to confirm when the full Watford money would be received, or clarify that there is currently no specific schedule. A spokesperson said: “We remain committed to delivering the new hospital scheme for West Hertfordshire NHS Foundation Trust by 2030.

“Up to the end of the 2022/23 financial year the trust have received over £50 million for the development of their new hospital scheme. The trust are currently developing their Outline Business Case aligned to our national approach to standardisation, Hospital 2.0.”

Watford Observer: Watford General Hospital.Watford General Hospital.

Outline planning permission for a 1,000-bed emergency care hospital in Vicarage Road was approved by the borough council in September, but reserved matters will still need to be green-lit later in the process.

The plan is part of the New Hospital Programme – a government commitment to build 40 new hospitals by 2030 – though the National Audit Office last year reported delays, lack of value for money, and that only 11 projects are wholly new builds.

When asked for clarification on when the money would be available, a trust spokesperson reiterated the government’s fully funded pledge and said major schemes’ money comes “incrementally over the duration of the project”.

“We have already started receiving the initial funding to support the land acquisition, enabling works, design development and project resourcing,” they said. “Further funding will be drawn down as we progress to starting main construction works in 2026.”

Watford’s Tory MP Dean Russell, who previously hailed “securing full funding for the redevelopment”, was asked how anyone could guarantee the full money would arrive if no date has been set to receive it before the election. 

He said: “The funding is confirmed and is fantastic news for both patients and our brilliant NHS staff. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care made the announcement last year in Parliament that Watford General Hospital would proceed and receive full funding. This is on official record.”

Mr Russell highlighted his years of consistent work attempting to secure the money, referencing the secretary of state complimenting his “compelling representations”, while also saying funding for major projects is drawn down incrementally throughout. 

“Under a Conservative government the new hospital is certain,” he added. “But that isn’t necessarily the case under Labour, who can’t say what they would do because they don’t have a plan.”

Another big roadblock, according to the New Hospital Campaign's Mr Aylett, is the trust having to get a business case approved while financially struggling.

West Herts Trust recently said it expects to end the financial year with an £18 million deficit, though its chief strategist Toby Hyde detailed a string of "efficiencies" that he said have already made £12 million of the £16 million target.

Mr Aylett claimed “no government will be prepared to allocate them the money to embark on such a huge and hazardous scheme”, and urged the trust to “urgently consider clear new sites which could offer better value for money”.

Labour’s prospective Watford MP, Matt Turmaine, said there had already been a “wasted decade” after his party’s hospital redevelopment plans were scrapped by the Coalition government in 2010.

“I wholeheartedly back plans to redevelop Watford hospital,” he added.

“The stark reality is that the Conservatives have a 14-year record of failure on this and so much else. It's going to fall to a Labour government to deliver it.”