A leader in public health says he has serious concerns about plans to build a new Royal Berkshire Hospital.

He says it is in danger of being a white elephant and not fit for purpose in 30 years time.

“I am not alone in having some major concerns about the way this is being approached,” said John Ashton, interim director for public health for Berkshire West, speaking at a meeting of West Berkshire Council's Health and Wellbeing Board.

“The person who frames the question determines the range of solutions.

“It seems the questions are being framed around replacing a hospital, rather than what kind of health system is going to be required in 30 or 40 years time.”

He has written a public health report for West Berkshire due out in June, which lays out what demand for health care could look like.

“We’ve got an ageing population and an increased desire for people to die at home rather than in hospital,” he wrote.

“Something like 80 or 90 per cent of people would prefer this, but the reason it doesn’t happen is because there isn’t confidence in the community health system to provide support to families.

“What we have is a scenario of replacing a hospital – we should be considering lots of scenarios.”

He described a system in Finland where budgets on building hospitals were capped with greater investment in community-based services.

“In other words, if we invest heavily in prevention and primary care facilities in the community over the next 15 years… what size hospital will we actually need?

“We don’t know half of what is coming down the track with medical advances.”

He said in other parts of the country there was growing interest in ‘health spaces’ where department stores are being reprovisioned as part of health services in more accessible town centres.

“We need to keep an open mind to what is needed for West Berkshire otherwise there will be a white elephant created that won’t be fit for purpose in 20 or 30 years time.”

The new hospital would be of a standardised construction, helping to reduce the construction time from 14 years to seven.

The board heard that designing the process for standardised builds including developing supply chains would take until 2028.

An impact assessment is now under way to find out what effect the new hospital on a new site would mean for staff, patients and communities.

Included in that is a transport survey.

“Can you please look at a radical approach to this,” said David Marsh (Green, Wash Common).

“One of the problems with the current site is that from Newbury you’ve got to get a train and a bus and if you drive there is no room in the car park.

“Time and again we have seen the answer to this is not to build an enormous car park which will cause even more problems and arguments with the fees and so on.

“Many more people would use public transport.

“So for example from Newbury if there were a bus to the hospital a lot of people would use it.

“A new hospital is an opportunity to address this.”

He was told that the health trust is thinking ahead, and thinking of ways to use the West Berkshire Community Hospital more.

“Part of the strategy is to ask what kind of facilities does the new hospital need to contain, and what we can position closer to where people are,”  said Alison Foster of the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust.

Meetings with the Treasury took place last week (April 30) to push for the hospital builds budget –  and will be informed of the outcome in a few weeks’ time.

Last year, the Government announced a figure of £20bn for the whole programme – before five more hospitals were added to the list and the scheduling of the new RBH put back to 2031.

The Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust wants a new hospital on a new site, saying its current site is challenging, has potential planning issues and underground challenges which will cost more to build on.

Between January and March this year, more than 2,400 people responded to a survey on the alternative sites at Thames Valley Science Park in Shinfield and Thames Valley Park in Earley.

Details of that survey are not yet public.