Building a critical treatment hospital remains “the most sensible solution” to ensure the sustainability of acute services in mid and north Hampshire, the region’s newest trust chief executive has said.

Alex Whitfield, who joined Hampshire Hospitals Foundation Trust this month, backed the plans for a new hospital to the west of Basingstoke and said a pre-consultation business case could be launched by autumn.

Alex Whitfield

Alex Whitfield

Alex Whitfield: ‘The critical treatment hospital is part of the solution’

She added that the trust needs to “centralise some of our functions” in the next 5-10 years, including some services at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester.

Her comments come amid a review of acute services in the area. Ms Whitfield told HSJ: “The critical treatment hospital is part of that solution. When you go through the logic that is where you end up.”

The trust received planning approval for the new hospital, which would be built near junction seven of the M3, in October 2015, despite clinical commissioning groups’ doubts about the affordability of the project.

Plans for the hospital include treating patients with heart attacks, strokes and major trauma; running a centralised, consultant led maternity service; and co-locating a new cancer treatment centre.

Previous estimates have suggested it would cost £150m to develop the site, and commissioners have said the trust’s proposals are unaffordable.

Ms Whitfield said part of its modelling work for the new hospital is exploring the potential impact on University Hospital Southampton FT.

If certain services provided at Royal Hampshire County Hospital are “centralised” in the next decade it would have a greater impact on Southampton without the critical treatment hospital, she said.

“I think that bit wasn’t as well explained to Southampton as it could have been… It’s important that the clinical commissioning groups and services are assured it’s the right answer,” she added.

The acute services review started early this year and is set to finish in the autumn.

Meanwhile, Ms Whitfield said the start of tenure has coincided with the trust reportedly hitting the four hour accident and emergency target for the last six weeks – though official data has not been published.

The trust has consistently struggled against the target, and last achieved it for a whole quarter in July to September 2013.

While she said she could take none of the credit for the turnaround, Ms Whitfield said it was “extraordinary” and attributed the success to a decision to “keep assessments flowing”.

She said: “We have rigorously been saying we will not a put a patient in a bed in the assessment area any longer than they need to be assessed.”

In February, the trust suspended most of its orthopaedic elective work for two weeks to ease pressure on its emergency services.

Ms Whitfield joins Hampshire Hospitals from Solent Trust, where she was chief operating officer for five years. She replaces Mary Edwards, who worked at Hampshire for 21 years and became chief executive in 2003 before retiring last year.

Ms Whitfield joined the NHS in 2005 at Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital, where she worked in project management, clinical governance, productivity and operational management of the emergency division.

Hampshire Hospitals also runs Andover War Memorial Hospital.