Health bosses splash out �500K on farm - for parking!

HEALTH bosses are facing huge criticism today after shelling out nearly �500,000 on a countryside farm to create more staff parking.

Rebecca Lefort

HEALTH bosses are facing huge criticism today after shelling out nearly �500,000 on a countryside farm to create more staff parking.

NHS Suffolk has splashed the cash on 2.5 hectares of land - including a run-down farmhouse - opposite its plush riverside headquarters in Paper Mill Lane, Bramford.

The expensive purchase comes as The Evening Star's “Have a Heart” appeal is trying to raise thousands of pounds to help Ipswich Hospital invest in specialist heart care facilities, and as NHS Suffolk itself organises a community meeting to discuss the “challenges of the economic downturn”.

Today the Star can also reveal:

- NHS Suffolk originally planned to have just 80 staff working at its luxurious Rushbrook House base, but that wildly inaccurate estimate has more than doubled to 190 people.

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- Health bosses were warned in 2006 that there was not enough parking at the controversial site, but they pushed ahead regardless.

- The decision to splash out �475,000 on land for cars was taken only by the chairman and finance director and was not taken to a public board meeting.

- Despite pledging to encourage sustainable transport methods the �183,000-a-year headquarters has just one shower for cyclists.

- Work to create the new car parking spaces will cost an extra �50,000 on top of the money already invested.

John Gummer, the MP for Suffolk Coastal labelled the latest findings a “scandal”.

“We warned them it was the wrong site for their headquarters; that it was expensive and unsustainable,” he said. “They shouldn't be putting their headquarters where nobody can get there by public transport, and now exactly what we warned has happened - they need more parking.

“This money could be spent, for example, on having the beginnings of a heart centre in Ipswich, or improving emergency services for Suffolk Coastal.”

Ipswich MP Chris Mole, who has faced abuse for backing NHS Suffolk over plans to treat emergency heart attacks outside the county, also criticised the farmland spend.

He said: “Having been there a number of times I'm not surprised that they are finding their parking inadequate, but it does beg the question of whether they wouldn't have been better actually based in Ipswich.

“If they've got to spend �500,000 it raises questions about whether that's the best use of NHS money.

“People want to see the NHS spend money on healthcare rather than parking for bureaucrats.”

- Should NHS Suffolk be spending �475,000 on parking? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail

Have a Heart appeal

- The Evening Star's “Have a Heart” appeal is raising money to help fund a specialist heart attack centre at Ipswich Hospital.

- Three high-tech primary angioplasty (PPCI) centres have been set up at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, Papworth in Cambridge and Basildon in Essex, but not in Suffolk.

- From September 1 serious heart attack patients in Suffolk will be sent to these centres, facing much longer journeys for care than people living nearby, and therefore having less chance of survival.

- Health bosses say Ipswich Hospital does not currently have the infrastructure or staff to provide the service.

- The Evening Star has been campaigning for a primary angioplasty centre to be set up in Ipswich so residents have the best level of care possible and don't face long journeys for treatment.

- After successfully changing healthcare policy with our campaign we have now launched the “Have a Heart” appeal which is raising money to help set up a catheter laboratory at Heath Road.

- The Star is asking for just one pound from every person who may need care at Ipswich Hospital's cardiac department in the future - which would collect around �350,000.

- The lab will originally be used to treat non-urgent heart operations but could eventually be expanded into a primary angioplasty centre.

The defence:-

Why does NHS Suffolk need to buy a farm?

NHS Suffolk said it bought the farmland because of the pressing need for more car parking spaces.

The number of staff working for NHS Suffolk has jumped dramatically since it moved to Rushbrook House in March 2007 on a five-year lease, a rise which bosses blame on an increasing workload.

Martin Royal, NHS Suffolk's director of external relations and business development, said he was confident the land would prove a good investment.

He said: “At the time of signing the lease, the number of car parking spaces was considered as adequate, allowing for part-time employees and home-workers.

“However, since then, demand for car parking spaces has increased as new appointments have swelled demand for space here.

“All alternative options for us to expand have now been exhausted. When nearby land became available, we agreed to buy it for �475,000 - which is considered a relatively low valuation and taking into account the current economic downturn.

“Of course we expect this land to grow in value over the remainder of our lease at Rushbrook House.”

NHS Suffolk will be submitting a planning application to Mid Suffolk District Council to create 70 new car parking spaces in Paper Mill Lane later this month.

Eventually it plans to consider converting the farmhouse it bought as part of the sale into a staff facility.

NHS Suffolk have pledged that any work will be carried out sensitively, sticking to planning laws and environmental sustainability.

Controversial history of Rushbrook House

- News of NHS Suffolk's - then Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) - plans to move to its plush Bramford headquarters was first revealed by The Evening Star in September 2006.

- The decision to lease the luxurious building was taken in secret at a non-public board meeting.

- Healthcare insiders warned that at a time of cutbacks in healthcare spending the upmarket move sent out the wrong message.

- Many MPs expressed concerns the site was unsuitable because of its distance from public transport.

- Unions raised fears at the spend on the HQ, saying patients should be the focus.

- The PCT said it would consider using a staff shuttle-bus, agreeing an additional bus service, and putting in lighting and a footpath so staff could walk to work - none of which has been done.

- At the time the PCT's spokesman, Jeremy Peters, said: “There's an ample car park”.