Monday, 26 July 2021

£500k for empty hospital floor

THE top floor at the new Townlands Hospital in Henley is costing more than £500,000 while it is still empty

THE top floor at the new Townlands Hospital in Henley is costing more than £500,000 while it is still empty.

The Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, which is in charge of services at the hospital, is paying “void costs” to NHS Property Services, which has a lease on the building.

It follows the decision by the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed to pull out of a deal to relocate to the £10million hospital in December 2014.

The payments started when the hospital opened in March, with the commissioning group paying £74,000 in the first month before declaring the floor “surplus to requirements”.

It now expects to pay another £492,000 until the start of February, when its liability for the space will expire.

NHS Property Services, which has a 25-year lease on the hospital from developer Amber Infrastructure, commissioned the top floor as part of the hospital build after the Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust agreed a deal with Sue Ryder in 2011.

But after the charity pulled out, liability for the rent transferred to the commissioning group, which replaced the primary care trust when that was abolished in 2013.

The payments were revealed by the commissioning group’s chief finance officer Gareth Kenworthy at a meeting of the Townlands Stakeholder Reference Group at Henley town hall on July 19. He said: “The void costs kick in from when the facility opens but by declaring it surplus we are limiting those costs.

“NHS Property Services is currently investigating possibilities for the floor because we have identified it as surplus to our requirements.”

Jenny Simpson, deputy chief finance officer at the commissioning group, said: “The building is under-occupied and the lease charges for the areas that are under-occupied have become the responsibility of the commissioning group under standard arrangements with NHS Property Services.

“This risk is capped by declaring the space void to requirements. Notice has now been served on NHS Property Services so that the liability for the second floor is now only payable for 10 months from April 1.”

A spokesman for NHS Property Services said: “The specifications of the building and the cost of renting it were originally agreed by the organisations involved in the Townlands scheme before the commissioning group or NHS Property Services came into existence.

“These legitimate costs are paid to the developer, Amber Infrastructure, in accordance with the terms of the lease.

“When the charity pulled out, the liability for the cost of the space passed to the commissioning group as the lead commissioner of services in the building.

“The commissioning group has declared the second floor ‘surplus to requirements’ to enable us to seek a new tenant. We continue to work closely with the group to secure a new tenant as soon as possible.”

Town councillor Ian Reissmann, who chairs the Townlands Steering Group, said he was surprised that the floor was planned for a paying tenant, which could rule out free-to-use NHS services in the future.

He said: “It’s a huge amount of money which they’ve had to pay as rent on the floor.

“Given that it has now been deemed surplus to requirements, it’s unfortunate that it was built. We don’t need it and now much-needed NHS services can’t be provided on that floor.

“We have made it clear that we wanted NHS services in all parts of the hospital but their main concern is that the financial model is viable, which assumes an income for that floor.”

Sue Ryder pulled out of the deal due to disagreements with the commissioning group and NHS Property Services on “a number of key areas” and instead opted to remain at Joyce Grove, its home of 33 years.

Doctors at the Bell and Hart surgeries have said they would be interested in moving into the hospital tbut would be unwilling to pay as much as the £250,000-a-year rent that NHS Property Services is said to require for the floor.

The space is being advertised on the Government’s property finder website, leading to speculation that a private healthcare provider might be interested in it.

Cllr Reissmann added: “The ideal situation is to have free-to-use and publicly owned services on that floor but it looks as though that won’t happen.

“It seems to have been opened to commercial services. That’s not what we set out to achieve 10 years ago but it’s the only remaining option.”

Mr Kenworthy said: “We have said our preferred option is to see complementary services on the floor and we are continuing to explore the viability of the surgeries moving in there.”

There is also likely to be spare space on the first floor of the hospital after the new rapid access care unit opens on October 3.

The unit, which will offer services including antibiotic treatment and transfusions, has set the date for a “soft launch” where it be run by a nursing team and interim doctor.

It was originally supposed to open in December but the date was put back several times after the commissioning group failed to recruit a clinical lead.

The unit, which will operate alongside a minor injuries unit, podiatry, outpatient services and physiotherapy and out-of-hours GP services, is unlikely to take up the whole floor.

Cllr Reissmann said: “We look forward to hearing proposals to use this space to provide additional services.”

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