Purley’s £11m hospital scheme sweeps value under the carpet

CROYDON COMMENTARY: The much-needed redevelopment work at Purley Hospital may not be money well-spent. And DAVID CALLAM is not surprised

Work continues on the £11 million refurbishment of Purley Hospital.

Purley Hospital signThe new-look NHS facility will re-open later this year in a building that has been re-modelled to meet some of the needs of 21st century medicine.

Patients will be treated in what is essentially a new clinic, but encased in a skin that dates back to its cottage hospital roots in 1909, modified and expanded in the wake of the Great War.

The refurbished facilities will undoubtedly be an improvement on what we have been used to in recent years, but has the NHS made the most of the chance to change the hospital for the better?

I think not.

A fully comprehensive approach might have been too radical for the denizens of Purley, many of whom are more concerned with the past than they are with the present or future. This would have involved a complete re-build.

The site stretches back to Pampisford Road and includes a large building used by SLaM – the South London and Maudsley Healthcare Trust – as a Resource Centre, with consulting rooms and a day centre for psychiatric medicine.

The NHS could have done a deal that provided two floors of fully accessible medical and psychiatric clinics facing Brighton Road, with three or four floors of apartments or offices above to defray the cost of development.

In these straitened times a commercial developer might have been reluctant to take on such a project, but that would have given a housing association a wonderful opportunity to provide sheltered accommodation for the elderly.

The less radical approach involves making the refurbished hospital large enough to accommodate the work now done at Purley Clinic in Whytecliffe Road. This would reduce overheads by allowing the NHS to sell the clinic building or give up the lease, as the case may be.

Brighton Road would also be a better location for less ambulant patients: Purley Hospital is easily accessible by bus, with a public car park nearby and the new hospital will have a cafeteria; Purley Clinic has none of those advantages.

I asked the development team whether they had considered incorporating Purley Clinic into the hospital redevelopment. A spokeswoman said they had made the best possible use of the money available for the project.

I’ll take that as a no.

In need of an overhaul: this part of the Purley Hospital opened in 1940

In need of an overhaul: this part of the Purley Hospital opened in 1940

Either the planners didn’t consider it, or the hospital and the clinic are funded from separate budgets and in best public service tradition, never the twain shall meet.

This despite the fact that ultimately all the money comes from the same source: the long-suffering tax-payer.

This failure to secure best value for money confirms how little NHS management has changed in decades, despite the expensive tinkering of self-important politicians.

It reminds me of a wasteful situation that happened during the building of the London Wing at Mayday Hospital in the early 1980s. The developer laid carpet in the wards, despite protests from medical staff who said that an absorbent surface would quickly become unhygienic as a result of everyday spills that are commonplace in any hospital.

A jaundiced member of the development team explained that carpet was a cheaper form of floor covering, which was good for his figures. Replacing the carpet with linoleum, if that became necessary, wasn’t his problem; the money for that would come from the hospital’s maintenance budget.

I fear the same short-term thinking is prevalent in the Purley Hospital project at a time when government continues to reduce, in real terms, the amount it gives to the Health Service.

And that means less money to spend on patients.

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