Minister's outline plan approval a huge step forward for Gwent hospital project
10:53am Tuesday 22nd October 2013 in Monmouthshire news
THE approval by Wales' health minister of initial plans for a Specialist and Critical Care Centre (SCCC) to treat Gwent's sickest patients is a massive step forward for a much-delayed project.
Professor Mark Drakeford's approval of the outline business case for the £242 million centre - earmarked for the site of the former Llanfrechfa Grange Hospital near Cwmbran - is a huge relief for Aneurin Bevan University Health Board bosses, who have been waiting all year for a decision from Cardiff Bay.
At first, the health board hoped it would get a decision on the outline case, submitted last December, by the end of April.
It was then announced in a letter from NHS Wales chief executive David Sissling that a decision would be delayed until after the future of key hospital services across South Wales was decided, as “it would not be appropriate to formally consider the outline business case in advance of the consultation outcome of the South Wales Programme."
That programme proposes a major revamp for A&E, neonatal, paediatrics and obstetrics across the region, and all the options involve the Specialist and Critical Care Centre as a base for the aforementioned services.
Final decisions on the South Wales Programme have been delayed until next month, but bringing the outline business case approval forward is an acknowledgement of its proposed key role and the need to modernise hospital services in Gwent.
Health Board chief executive Dr Andrew Goodall is "delighted" the outline case has been given the green light.
"The SCCC has always had strong support from clinicians and patients in the Gwent area. This agreement now means the health board can proceed with its local planning with the urgency it deserves," he said.
Also brought forward 12 months, after years of being pushed further into the future, is the estimate of when the hospital will be fully operational.
Just weeks ago, a health board report forecast "2020 at the earliest" but the OBC approval announcement cites 2019.
A full business case is required, and a substantial programme of on- and off-site work will be needed too, before building commences.
There remain concerns over how the project will be funded, given that the total cost would make up almost all of the NHS Wales annual capital budget, and details were absent in Professor Drakeford's outline business case approval statement.
But though the timetable is likely to change, the outline case itself details proposals for how the total cost will be spread over the five or six years leading up to the centre opening, as preparation and building work progresses.
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