Money intended for new buildings and services  at St Albans Hospital is being diverted to day-to-day operations as the West Herts Trust struggles to keep financially afloat.

There was tough questioning at the Trust’s Board meeting this week as officials explained that work intended for this year on a new surgical hub, endoscopy and a diagnostic centre is being delayed until next year at the earliest. Funds which are supposed to go towards buildings and equipment are being used to meet ‘revenue’ – running – costs.

The cash crisis shows that the Trust is very unlikely to be able both to afford the £1.1 bn plus tower block hospital on the Vicarage Road site at Watford and still run its services to a decent standard. The towering infirmary would waste huge sums of money because of the difficult site and the interference with everyday operation of the existing Hospital. 

The Trust faces a likely deficit of at least £22m this financial year as senior management pleas to cut spending fail to make a difference across the organisation.  Patient demands on the main clinical departments have led to stubborn deficits in the year to date. The Surgery Division’s costs are £4.8m higher than planned, Medicine Division’s costs are £6.8m above budget, and Emergency Division’s costs are £3.8m above budget.

With winter on the way, these figures could easily get worse.

Faced with deficits like this in other big hospital trusts in Herts and West Essex, the regional supervisory body, the ICS, is demanding even tighter controls over spending.

The result could be that the local West Herts Trust loses some of its independence.

We may be fed up with the Trust’s performance and bias towards Watford General – but the risk is that an even more remote and unaccountable body could end up running our health services.