Orsett Hospital land sale cash likely to go to quango’s ‘slush fund’

CASH raised through the proposed sale of Orsett Hospital will go to a government health quango’s ‘slush fund’ rather than Basildon and Thurrock Hospitals Trust which owns the land, it has been confirmed.

Findings from a freedom of information request show £7million from the sale of NHS land at Fossetts Farm in Southend has already been given to the Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) rather than Southend Hospital, – despite the STP having already been allocated £118 million in national funding.

The STP confirmed that it had received that money and further funding would come from the closure and sale of the Orsett Hospital site in Thurrock – a decision which has attracted widespread criticism and is the basis for a Thurrock Council referral to the secretary of state about the way the project has been handled.

A spokesperson for the STP said: “The Mid and South Essex STP was identified to receive national capital funds to support the transformation work in all three hospitals in Southend, Chelmsford and Basildon, by the Treasury in November 2017.

“This money was sought to make investments in new operating theatres, improvements in IT to make it easier to operate across hospital sites and around 50 extra inpatient beds. It was earmarked alongside £12million raised locally from the sale of assets including the unused land at Fossetts Farm.

“By comparison each year the hospitals individually have budget of around £10million to spend on capital or one-off projects including equipment, refurbishment of estate and IT investment.”

Clare Panniker, Chief Executive of Southend, Chelmsford and Basildon hospitals said: “The £118 million we were allocated signified the most significant investment into mid and south Essex for almost a decade.

“For Southend Hospital this would represent an extra £41 million to spend on improving the quality of the facilities in which we care for our patients, helping to bring clinical areas up to modern standards.”

But Southend councillor Bernard Arscott, chairman of the joint health and overview scrutiny committee – which has reviewed the STP plans extensively – said he was not aware the Fossetts Farm money had gone to the STP or of the extra £12million.

Councillor Matt Dent of Southend Labour added that he has “serious concerns” money from the sale of local NHS assets had been used on the STP scheme when councillors had agreed there is a danger it could move resources out of Southend.”

Plans to use the 15 acres of land at Fossetts Farm in Southend for a diagnostic and treatment centre were abandoned in 2014 and four years later Southend Hospital sold the land to Homes England for £7 million.

It is estimated that up to 400 homes could be built on the land, and campaigners have been calling on the council to build social housing on the site, including homes for NHS workers.

A spokesperson for the campaign group Save Southend NHS said: “Money from the NHS public land sell off has gone into the STP slush fund – to further decimate our local hospital.

“The irony, that land was meant to be for a diagnostic and treatment centre for the people here – yet they are using it to further their plans to remove services from our hospital.

“That’s why the Fossetts for the People campaign wants to ensure that our community at least get something back from the disgraceful sell off. Genuinely affordable and key worker housing at least will help our housing and NHS worker crisis.”

The closure of Orsett Hospital has generated widespread anger in Thurrock, with many residents demanding that it stays open.

In December last year members of the council’s health scrutiny committee agreed to refer the STP plan to the secretary of state because they claimed to have received limited assurances that services would remain in the borough.