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Savernake’s future remains in limbo as government grapples with NHS reforms

Who pays the £1.1 million annual cost of the private finance initiative (PFI) cost of Marlborough’s revamped Savernake Hospital is still yet to be decided by the coalition government.

That leaves the final fate of the hospital, which has served the Marlborough community since 1866, in limbo but nevertheless with little danger that it will disappear in the near future.

Yet serious problems remain as the government grapples with its controversial NHS reform legislation still to come into operation, which is aimed at putting GP consortiums in control of  massive health expenditure.

That was the indecisive message that came out of a high level meeting at the Department of Health, in Whitehall, on Friday. It was set up by local Tory MP Claire Perry and  attended by Savernake activist Val Compton, who fought – and lost – a High Court battle over Savernake continuing to operate  as a minor injuries centre.

“We didn’t get real answers because there aren’t any available yet, and I came away from the meeting without any clear idea of a timescale of what happens in the future,” Mrs Compton told Marlborough News Online. “This is very much work in progress.”

“I don’t envisage closure of Savernake Hospital – I could never envisage that -- as it’s the stuff that nightmares are made of.  I certainly didn’t get the impression there is any dawdling going on, more that there is an overwhelming amount of work for the department to get through.”

“However, somewhere along the line, the money will have to be found for PFI repayments for Savernake and many other much bigger projects.  That’s the worry, but one which Claire Perry is far closer to and fully understands.”

The 45-minute meeting – PFI repayment was the sole subject on the agenda -- was with a team headed by Health Minister Simon Burns alongside representatives of relevant Department of Health and agency officials plus Jeff James, chief executive of NHS Wiltshire.

Claire Perry questioned the possibilities of re-negotiating the Savernake’s PFI contract in order to reduce repayment levels, the current cost being an annual £1.1 million on a 30-year contract, which has another 24 years to run.

The total figure in the end, though it has not been confirmed, could be £68 million.

Jeff James revealed that the repayment figure is £700,000 more per annum than the comparable operating cost of other hospitals.

He gave an assurance that services at Savernake were constantly under review, pointing out a scenario whereby some GPs may wish to expand specific medical services provided within their own practices, rather than clustering a service into a local community hospital like Savernake.

But the future is dependent on the new clinical commission groups covering the Marlborough area, which is working alongside Wiltshire PCT until the projected GP takeover in 2013.

Claire Perry continually quizzed the team on potential alternative solutions and creative ways of tackling the problem.

“She left no stone unturned, and I am convinced we did well in putting over our case at government level,” said Mrs Compton, whose fight for Savernake was mentioned in last week’s Commons debate on the future of the NHS.

“The answer is clearly that at the moment nothing has been decided and we are in a state of limbo.”

“The minister commented that PFIs were born out of a ‘Jam today’ culture.  I mused about the irony of that.  People in the Marlborough area have worked from 1990 to preserve and rebuild their Savernake hospital.”

“They received their ‘jam’ after 15 years of hard work and fund-raising only to find they had a hospital with a distinct lack of land surrounding it -- because a slice was sold off which reduced the PFI cost of £9.5 million by £3 million.”

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