Hospital launches biggest expansion since it was built 20 years ago
PUBLISHED: 06:00 08 August 2019 | UPDATED: 12:04 08 August 2019
The region's busiest hospital is embarking on its biggest construction project since it was built 20 years ago.
Three different schemes make up the building package at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), in a bid to help meet the rising demand placed on the trust, which it has at times struggled to keep up with.
When the new NNUH first opened in Colney in 2001 after two years of construction, it treated around 60,000 patients a year in its emergency department - last year this swelled to 140,000 with 50pc more ambulances turning up at the front door.
At the same time cancer referrals have risen by 10pc and emergency admissions by 20pc since 2011.
But it is hoped a new three-storey ward block, announced today, along with previous developments of a new interventional radiology unit (IRU) and a new building to house the trust's PET CT scanner, will help staff deal with the influx of patients.
The whole project will cost around £40m, with some money coming from NHS England, some from the government, and the rest from NNUH funds, and should be in place in time for winter, as building work has already begun. The money used is separate to that announced by Boris Johnson for the NHS earlier in the week.
Mark Davies, who is set to leave the trust in the autumn, said: "This is a really big deal. We just don't have the physical capacity to treat the patients as fast as we would like. So when you put these three things [the building projects] together it's the biggest construction this site has seen since it was built 20 years ago, and that's not hyperbole, that's the truth."
The first two floors of the new ward block, which will be between the two existing acute medical unit wards, are scheduled to be open to its first patients in January 2020 and the third floor will be made ready for future use.
The new wards will increase capacity at NNUH by 70 beds and an extra 30 inpatient beds will be created when the Jack Pryor Unit moves its renal dialysis services offsite.
The knock-on effect, it is hoped, will be to reduce the pressure at the front door and prevent ambulances queuing to drop off patients, which has become synonymous with winter troubles in our NHS.
Even though there is a chronic shortage of NHS staff, Mr Davies said he was confident the trust could hire enough people to make the changes possible.
And he was sure the hospital coffers, which have been hampered by heavy private finance initiative debt, could carry the extra investment. He said: "We've built that into our long term financial plan."
He added: "Making sure we've got the money to build it is important but in some senses the bigger challenge is how we're going to staff it.
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"We work closely with the University of East Anglia, and we're also sending a delegation to India to recruit 100 nurses."
Mr Davies, whose successor was announced yesterday, said announcing the scheme was also a point of personal pride.
He said: "It's a fantastic thing to have done before I go, and for both the patients and for the staff, because the staff are under pressure at the moment and providing the right facilities for them - and we have nearly 10,000 staff now - is very important."
The announcement comes as the next chief executive of the NNUH was revealed.
Sam Higginson will take up the role in the autumn, coming from Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust where he has been chief operating officer since March 2017.
Mr Higginson started his career working with Unicef as a UN logistics officer co-ordinating the airlift of emergency supplies in Sudan followed by organising medical teams for a charity to assess the need for emergency relief in areas of Africa and Afghanistan. He joined NHS London in 2008 after four years on the HM Treasury health spending team and prior to that was a management consultant.
David White, NNUH chairman, said: "I am absolutely delighted to welcome Sam to our hospitals. His previous experience and expert understanding of large complex NHS organisations are incredibly valuable assets in leading the trust on our journey to outstanding, building on the success and firm foundations established by Mark Davies, our current chief executive."
Mr Higginson said: "I am extremely pleased to be joining Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals and am very much looking forward to working with staff, governors and our health and social care partners and continuing the conversation with patients as they help us to shape services."
Analysis: New money or old tricks?
For years, despite this newspaper, patients, and staff screaming the NNUH was built too small, it was denied by the top levels of the NHS.
So it has been refreshing for Mark Davies to finally admit the hospital simply is not big enough.
Combined with money from Boris Johnson's new government this week, which will also benefit the NHS, it seems to be a good time for the NNUH.
But there are debates over whether Mr Johnson's money is new - as he insists - or whether most of it was already in health service reserves.
Mr Davies said as far as he is concerned it is money that they have not been able to spend before, and that is welcome.
However, that does not change the fact that many on the front line feel the Tories have spent the last nine years underfunding the NHS. Many will feel that putting back in a fraction of what has been taken away is a ploy to win votes. It remains to be seen whether investment will be sustained.