Unpublished documents reveal new NHS property company – will it own Savernake Hospital?

Written by Gerald Isaaman on .

Savernake Hospital MarlboroughSavernake Hospital Marlborough

The map of the Conservative-led coalition’s new health service for England is very gradually becoming clearer.  But the sheet of that map which includes Marlborough still omits one vital feature:  come April 2013, who will own Savernake Hospital once the Primary Care Trust (PCT) has been wound up?

The Health Service Journal has seen documents revealing how the new NHS Property Services Ltd (known for short as ‘PropCo’) will take over NHS properties now owned by PCTs across England.  The shape of this new company matters locally as it may come to own Savernake Hospital.

At present our PCT – NHS Wiltshire – owns Savernake Hospital and pays its annual Public Finance Initiative (PFI) charges.  The PCT also receives the rent from other NHS healthcare providers that use parts of the hospital – like Great Western Hospital Foundation Trust and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.

Over the past months, replies from the Department of Health to letters from interested local parties have not revealed who ultimately own Savernake Hospital.  Last summer guidance from Whitehall suggested Savernake and its PFI might transfer to the GWH.  That outcome has not been confirmed.

It has been said that those PCT properties deemed to be (in the Department’s jargon) “service critical clinical infrastructure” can be handed to the relevant providers such as community care providers. This might still mean GWH (which manages Wiltshire’s community healthcare) could take over Savernake. But GWH probably does not lease enough of Savernake to qualify under that policy and the financial burden of the PFI may rule out that solution.

These documents reveal for the first time the size of the property portfolio transferring to PropCo.  Once valued at £2 billion it is now said to be worth between £4.5 billion and £5 billion. This implies the inclusion of many more ‘big ticket’ properties such as those with PFI contracts attached.

It is also now clear that PropCo will be taking on about two thousand five hundred PCT staff. And that the company’s chief executive and chief operating officer will be employed on “very senior manager” contracts with salaries to match.

Coalition ministers are happy to back an interim framework for PropCo lasting two to three years – “until the full commercial model can be developed.” At that point it is very likely that PropCo will be sold off.

This would be quite a simple task as PropCo will be, as health minister Simon Burns told Parliament, “one hundred per cent owned by the Secretary of State for Health.” PropCo was registered with Companies House last December, with two civil servants as its directors and one £1 share in the name of the Secretary of State.

Before a sell-off can happen, PropCo will have to become commercially viable – which means raising rents for those who occupy and use its properties including the many GPs whose surgeries are currently owned by PCTs.

Until the precise details of PropCo are made public the future ownership of Savernake will remain unclear.  But as Savernake Hospital is now home to valued healthcare services and as no one will want to pay off the remaining years of its multi-million pound PFI contract, it will surely have an assured future – whoever owns it.