An extraordinary row has broken out between two NHS hospital trusts, with one accusing the other of endangering the safety of seriously ill patients through a £190m development scheme.
University College London hospital (UCLH) claims Great Ormond Street (GOSH) children’s hospital’s rebuilding of its ageing site will lead to patients being denied time-critical care because they will become stuck in ambulances trapped in construction site traffic.
The dispute has pitted against each other two trusts that are near-neighbours in the historic Bloomsbury district of central London, and which have long had a close working relationship.
UCLH has lodged a strongly worded objection to GOSH’s plan to demolish part of its site in central London, which dates back to 1852, and build an eight-storey, state-of-the-art replacement facility.
This would include a new specialist centre for treating children and young people with cancer. UCLH claims the scheme poses a risk, both to adults being taken to its National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) for urgent brain surgery and also children being cared for at GOSH.
Its main concern centres on GOSH’s plan to start using Powis Place, a short private street owned jointly by the two trusts, as its new temporary main entrance during the three-year building phase.
UCLH fears that ambulances rushing to unload patients there will get snarled up in nearby streets congested with 30-tonne lorries servicing the building site, and could endanger under-18s arriving at GOSH because Powis Place would be too crowded.
It has sent a two-page letter of objection submitted to the London borough of Camden, the planning authority from which GOSH is seeking permission to proceed with its plan. In it, UCLH says that GOSH’s planned use of and access to Powis Place “will result in significant risk of harm to patients, particularly arrivals needing urgent and immediate treatment”.
“A high-volume ambulant patient entrance on Powis Place will conflict with the emergency, blue-light route for critically-ill patients for both the NHNN and GOSH. The current proposals do not provide safe passage for pedestrians due to conflict with emergency vehicle access.,” it states.
Potential “congestion” caused by both GOSH and NHNN patients being dropped off at the new entrance could delay 999 ambulances arriving in time, “creating unnecessary delays to patient treatment” … [which] may lead to clinical harm to patients of the NHNN or GOSH … it would not be safe for this entrance to be used for ambulant patients and their visitors or families,” it adds.
UCLH also has concerns about patients with brain conditions who occasionally receive urgent medical care outside the neurological hospital as soon as they are arrive. “Under the current proposal this would be in full view of visitors and patients using GOSH’s ambulant entrance. [This] has implications for the privacy and dignity of both trusts.”
In addition, GOSH’s plan to turn the street after which it is named into a one-way road during the construction phase “is of great concern and will mean delays to treatment for critically ill patients”, UCLH says. The ensuing “confusion and congestion” on Great Ormond Street and surrounding roadswould have “detrimental impacts on patient access” to NHNN and [the] Royal London hospital for Integrated Medicine, the homeopathic hospital situated next door to GOSH.
GOSH’s replacement of its “frontage building” is part of a five-phase plan to expand its space by 62% by rebuilding two-thirds of its estate. “The ever-increasing complexity of treatments, new equipment and GOSH’s ambition to improve the patient and family experience, as well as staff health and wellbeing, results in the requirement for larger rooms and spaces”, it says.
Some local residents are unhappy. In a statement, the newlyformed Great Ormond Street Group advised the trust to abandon its plan for “a new 10-storey monster building in the middle of a small residential road in a conservation area, which will destroy the lives of residents and kill off local businesses”. The new building “is totally disproportionate” in size compared with the nearby houses. It urged GOSH to instead build an entirely new hospital elsewhere.
The row presents a headache for the local MP, Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, who may have to decide which side to back. Local resident Henry Lamprecht, who is also chair of the local branch of the Labour party, is opposing the plan.
The conservation group Heritage England has also objected to the plan. It is worried that the scale of the proposed new building will spoil people’s ability to appreciate St Paul’s Cathedral from Primrose Hill, a London park on a hill to the north, which is a protected view.
GOSH did not respond to a request to reply to UCLH’s concerns. Instead, the two trusts issued a joint statement stressing their determination to resolve the points at issue.
It said: “We are neighbouring NHS hospitals with a long history of working together as close partners, and are part of a joint cancer principal treatment centre.
“We are talking to each other to find a way forward which will work for both our organisations and patients. We are hopeful we can resolve the issues raised.”