Published: 05/12/2002, Volume112 No. 5834 Page 8 9

A London GP is urging NHS Estates to let him convert a string of disused hospital sites into healthy living centres and housing for key workers instead of selling them off at commercial rates.

Tower Hamlets GP Dr Sam Everington wants to convert the derelict Queen Elizabeth Children's Hospital (QEH), which has been empty since services were moved to the Royal London Hospital in 1996.

He hopes the project could be the first of four large-scale redevelopments of other empty hospitals, including parts of St Clements Hospital, St Andrew's Hospital and Mile End Hospital.

As well as providing GPs and other agencies, each site would focus on one specific area - QEH would focus on children and the other hospitals on mental health, minor surgery and care of the elderly, respectively.

The closure of the QEH in an area of higher than average infant mortality and deprivation caused a storm of protest, especially when it was revealed that there would be fewer beds in the new location.

Two parts of the site are owned by Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, including grade II listed Georgian buildings.

Its plan to redevelop them to sell as flats at full market rates was rejected earlier this year by Tower Hamlets council. Dr Everington has already played a key role in creating a healthy living centre nearby.

He wants to enter into a deal with a property developer to create a large GP practice and educational resource centre as well as a multiagency primary care centre and key worker housing. In return the developer would retain some of the site to convert into flats and sell at commercial rates. Funding for the conversion work would come via an NHS local improvement finance trust scheme.

Dr Everington said: 'I think my plans fit the spirit of the scheme.

We are facing a desperate GP shortage in this area, with many practices being forced to close their lists. The hospital straddles Tower Hamlets and Hackney and would provide space to bring a lot of practices together to provide for a population of about 25,000.'

But Robert Chapman, senior negotiator at local estate agents Land Commercial, doubted whether Dr Everington would have the financial clout to beat off bids from large developers.

'This is a very big site. In this market, he would have difficulty competing with developers like Crest or Furlong. There have just been two large mental hospital redevelopments as luxury homes - one in Friern Barnet and one in St Albans.' Tower Hamlets PCT said it would welcome the initiative.

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets council said that three plans providing full market value and social housing had already been rejected. 'Any new application would have to provide a new GP surgery, ' she added.

A spokesperson for NHS Estates said that any deal would have to achieve best value for the site. 'By best value, we do not just mean maximising a financial return - any deal would have to produce best value for the local community.' He added that a decision on the future use of the site would be made by March next year.

lA personal medical services pilot site in Whitechapel, London, which was designed to parachute GPs and nurse practitioners into an area of high deprivation, is in danger of collapse. The service was being run by a locum GP and a nurse practitioner who works part time. But last week, the GP quit. Now Tower Hamlets primary care trust is being forced to use agency locums to keep the service open.