Children’s Hospital Threatened

The completion of the Children’s Hospital for Wales was thrown into jeopardy last night as an NHS organisation pulled the plug on its support.

Cardiff Local Health Board (LHB) has said it will not support the £40m second and final phase of building work because it is expected to contribute to the running costs of the first ever children’s hospital in Wales.

Health chiefs, who face having to make £4.7m of savings this year, will only support the development if it does not cost the cash-strapped authority any money but the Assembly Government last night appeared to wash its hands of the matter saying it will not step in to resolve the problem.

Officials at Cardiff LHB said the hospital was “not a priority” for investment and that “there is little indication of the clinical benefits the development will deliver”, even though 33,000 Cardiff children would be treated at the hospital every year.

It has been more than two years since the Children’s Hospital for Wales, in Cardiff, was officially opened. Rows over who will foot the £5.1m annual bill for the ongoing revenue costs have repeatedly delayed work on the second phase, which will include operating theatres, intensive care and outpatient clinics.

A spokeswoman for the Noah’s Ark Appeal, which raised millions to build and equip the hospital, said, “The Noah’s Ark Appeal is staggered by the news. It is difficult to believe that anyone who is aware of the vast gulf between the standards of the paediatric surgical wards at the University Hospital of Wales (UHW) and the new Children’s Hospital for Wales could not regard its completion as a priority.

“Many thousands of children each year are treated in old, shabby, cramped facilities where there is no privacy and no provision for parents who have to sleep on chairs or even the floor. The Children’s Hospital for Wales is a world away from this, a truly world-class environment purpose-built and child-friendly with the best facilities for both children and their families.

“Before the Noah’s Ark Appeal took action on behalf of the children and families of Wales, all that existed was talk about a children’s hospital. I hope for the sake of children in Cardiff and all across Wales that the attitude of Cardiff LHB isn’t signalling a return to those days. If caring for sick children in the best environment isn’t a priority, then what on earth is?”

And Jonathan Morgan, the Welsh Conservatives’ shadow Health Minister, said, “I am astounded that Cardiff LHB either does not see the Children’s Hospital for Wales as a top priority or simply doesn’t have the funds. Health spend is greater per head in Wales than in England and I fail to see why, with competent financial management, the money isn’t there.

“I will be demanding that the Health Minister intervenes on this matter to ensure that full support is provided by the Assembly Government in the absence of support from the local health board. We cannot afford to play politics with children’s health and wellbeing in Wales. The children’s hospital is urgently needed and must be completed.”

The revenue costs of the second phase of the hospital amount to £5.1m a year, but the Assembly Government has said it will meet some of the costs and provide financial support to the other commissioners – including Cardiff LHB – for the first three years.

This means Cardiff LHB would have to pay £427,000 towards the running of the Children’s hospital in the first year, rising to £1.1m in its fourth year of existence.

Mike Walsh, Cardiff LHB’s commissioning director, said, “Once completed, it is estimated that the new hospital will cost an extra £5.1m each year, of which Cardiff LHB’s share will be £1.1m. Cardiff LHB recognises the need for improved, purpose-built facilities for the treatment of children in Cardiff, and wishes to see these built as part of the phase two development.

“However, in the present very challenging financial climate faced by the LHB, the extra costs of the current plans cannot take priority over other essential services. The board is being asked to support the principle of the completion of phase two of the Children’s Hospital for Wales, but not to support the current plans because the extra running costs of the new development cannot be afforded by the LHB.

“Cardiff LHB will therefore work with the Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust to develop revised plans and find further service efficiencies, which will reduce the cost to the LHB.” Cardiff LHB will consider the proposals for the final phase of the Children’s Hospital for Wales at its board meeting on Wednesday.

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesman said, “The Assembly Government has clearly demonstrated its commitment to the children’s hospital via agreement to provide £2m every year towards the estimated annual running costs of the hospital of £5m. The remaining £3m must be funded by local health boards and Health Commission Wales as commissioners of paediatric services.

“The Assembly Government has made it clear that commissioners have to grapple with the revenue issues which arise from phase two of the Children’s hospital. It is good to see Cardiff LHB actively engaged in this process.”