Southlands sale: ‘No realistic alternative’

The Harness Block at Southlands Hospital, which will be demolished

The Harness Block at Southlands Hospital, which will be demolished

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THIS special comment piece from Marianne Griffiths, chief executive of Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, has been issued in response to comments made at the recent Adur planning meeting and letters in last week’s paper.

Southlands Hospital has a secure and vibrant future, and a recent decision to grant outline planning permission for new housing on a disused part of the site means a multi-million pound redevelopment to improve the services it offers is now assured.

Marianne Griffiths, chief executive of Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Marianne Griffiths, chief executive of Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

As chief executive of Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, I was present at the Adur planning meeting on January 19, and took the opportunity to reaffirm our plans to build a new state-of-the-art ophthalmology unit at Southlands.

Emotions at the committee hearing ran high, and many there, including councillors and campaigners, lamented the loss of such a significant NHS asset, especially at a time when capacity has been such a major issue for care providers.

However, it is important people fully appreciate that every effort was taken to try to retain the building for NHS use before the decision to sell the Harness Block and other unused building at Southlands was taken.

In early 2010, less than a year after the formation of Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, clinicians from Southlands raised serious concerns about patient safety at the Shoreham hospital.

A clinical review was undertaken where risk was identified in terms of a higher than average mortality rate, which was simply unacceptable and we had to take action. We undertook a review – Service Redesign for Quality – to respond to the issues and secure a blueprint for the future of Southlands.

In February 2011, the conclusion of a joint consultation between us and all local health partners agreed acute hospital work should not be carried out at Southlands. But, at the same time, many people called for the Harness Block to be retained as a community hospital, providing non-acute community beds.

We listened, but as an acute trust we were not in a position to do this ourselves. However, we approached all our local NHS partners asking them if they could make use of the Harness Block. We contacted 21 different organisations, but sadly, the answer was ‘no’.

We did receive one late bid for the use of the Harness Block but it did not meet the special requirements and consequently in October 2013 legislation decreed that we had to declare the building surplus to requirements.

With no realistic alternative forthcoming, the board took the decision in 2014 to make the land available on the open market. By applying for and gaining outline planning permission for residential use, the trust will maximise the sale value, which means more money will be invested in improving care at Southlands.

We have pledged to ring-fence the proceeds from any sale for the benefit of Southlands, and we stand by that commitment. Indeed, we plan to invest significantly more than the forecast sale value.

We have done all that we can to secure a viable and very successful future for Southlands, and I am very confident the new ophthalmology unit will be a tremendous asset for patients, the trust and wider community.