STRUCTURE: A foundation trust that shelved plans to build a new hospital until after the election has given itself a six month deadline to decide whether to abandon the project, its chief executive has told HSJ.

It comes after North Tees and Hartlepool FT had to sell back the land it purchased for the new site five years ago to the previous owner.

A condition of the sale was that if the trust did not secure funding for the new hospital, it had the option to sell the land back to previous owner, Wynyard Park Limited, by 12 May.

North Tees and Hartlepool FT

North Tees and Hartlepool FT had to sell the land back to its previous owner

The trust announced in October that it had “paused” plans to centralise its services at a new hospital until after the general election.

The trust had failed to secure approval for its outline business case under the private finance 2 programme, and did not think it was likely to get a decision before the election.

Trust chief executive Alan Foster has criticised the complexity of the approvals process.

A previous outline business case for public funding had been approved in February 2010 but was overturned following the 2010 general election.

Mr Foster told HSJ this week that the trust will spend the next six months “testing the water” with the new government to see if it can get political support for its current plan. After this time it would “take stock” and decide whether to continue or focus on improving its two existing sites.

He said the trust “can’t go on for the next five years without achieving anything”, so had given itself a six month deadline to “decide once and for all whether this is going to fly”.

Mr Foster added that he was “not particularly optimistic” about the chance of success but would “give it one last throw of the dice”.

He said a new hospital was the “best plan in the long term”. Otherwise the trust would be “left with no choice” but to plan how much it spends on infrastructure and refurbishment of the existing sites for the next 10-15 years, which is “not a very efficient thing to do”.

“If we don’t spend any money [on the hospitals] they’re going to fall over,” he warned.

The trust purchased land for the new site in 2010. The re-sell option meant the trust would not be left with unused land or any financial loss, Mr Foster explained.

“Obviously when we entered into this five years ago we thought we’d have a decision [about the hospital], but we’ve been bogged down by [private finance initiative] reviews, politics and affordability issues, so we’ve run out of time,” he said.

However, Mr Foster added that the sale was “not particularly a hindrance” as there is “still plenty of land available in the same area”.