Biggleswade health hub progress talks criticised

The former Biggleswade Hospital site. Picture: Google Street View

The former Biggleswade Hospital site. Picture: Google Street View - Credit: Archant

Progress over talks to set up a community health hub in Biggleswade have been criticised for being too slow.

Central Bedfordshire Council chief executive Richard Carr spoke of frustration over the length of ti

Central Bedfordshire Council chief executive Richard Carr spoke of frustration over the length of time it has taken at a meeting of the health and wellbeing board. Picture: Andrew Buckle - Credit: Archant

The Ivel Valley integrated health and care hub – which was first talked about five years ago – would serve the Biggleswade, Sandy and Shefford area.

But negotiations to establish it at the preferred location on the former Biggleswade Hospital site, are still ongoing.

As Central Bedfordshire lacks a hospital of its own, the plans are to set up half a dozen community health hubs scattered across the locality.

The NHS in partnership with Central Bedfordshire Council wants to provide extended GP access, clinics to support patients with long-term conditions, and minor injury and illness services.

Conservative councillor at CBC Brian Spurr said he is disappointed in how long talks have taken.

Conservative councillor at CBC Brian Spurr said he is disappointed in how long talks have taken. - Credit: Archant

The hubs are designed to offer flexible and community-based forms of care, as part of a transformation of the NHS, rather than focus just on hospitals and medical centres.

A progress report on the hubs for Central Bedfordshire was updated at a meeting of the council’s health and wellbeing board on October 31.

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“I am really disappointed how long it’s taken us,” said Conservative Leighton Buzzard North councillor Brian Spurr, who’s the executive member for health.

“I can’t believe we’re still talking about it five years on. I know it’s complicated. I still can’t understand it.

“I would ask how can we put pressure on the NHS to sort out the Biggleswade case.

“I really find it difficult to support us going for a planning application on a piece of land we do not own, where we think we’re going to get it from the NHS but we’re still not pretty sure.

“So that’s delayed the timetable for Biggleswade,” added Councillor Spurr, who chairs the board.

“I don’t know how we can put more pressure on the NHS to do that. I am asking where I could be leaning to try and get that. Any suggestions?”

“The former hospital site in Biggleswade is our preferred site,” Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s locality business manager Nikki Barnes told the board.

“We’ve had on-going talks with NHS Property Services, which owns that site

“That has been challenging, I think it’s fair to say and we still haven’t resolved that. But we have a number of tricks up our sleeve.

“The hubs in Chiltern Vale and Ivel Valley are in the second stage of planning,” she explained.

“So we are still working to our deadline of the end of February next year to have the detailed business case in place and the designs.

“Then it’s the full business case with funding permission approved by late summer next year, construction to begin in the middle of 2020 and completion by the end of 2021.

“The talks over the Biggleswade site are continuing,” she added. “This is a long-term programme and we have pressures.

“It’s part of a sustainability and transformation partnership programme for 15 hubs across Central Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes and Luton.

“There’s a significant focus of the hubs on prevention and earlier intervention.”

A trip to see a similar project at White City in London “keeps us motivated for what we can deliver in Central Bedfordshire”, she told the board.

Council chief executive Richard Carr said: “One of the reasons why I think it’s significant the hub programme is incorporated within the STP, instead of the capital strategy, is frankly I’m less interested in money. I’m more interested in perception and the approval, and I think, if we get that, it puts us in a stronger position to progress in conversations with NHS Property Services.

“I think we all share the frustration over the length of time it takes over these things.”

A spokesperson for NHS Property Services said: “All local partners involved understand the desire to see a health and social care hub ultimately delivered for the local community.

“And we at NHS Property Services are making our contribution to moving the project forward.

“Our role is to support our health commissioning colleagues, Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group.

“So as BCCG is progressing its clinical strategy and assessing its service requirements, we are helping them by advising on leasing and funding options.

“Everyone is interested in making timely progress, but it is important the end result is affordable and fit-for-purpose, and this work is fundamental to achieving that outcome.”