Royal Liverpool Hospital – How did we get here?

By Demi Williams

The Royal Liverpool University Hospital, founded in 1978, is the largest and busiest hospital in Merseyside, and since its announcement to build a new and improved hospital back in 2013, it’s faced its fair share of difficulties.

The new Royal is being built next door to the current one and has been in development since 2014.

The hospital is set to have one of the biggest emergency departments in the North West, a four-bed intensive care unit and a clinical research facility.

Royal Liverpool University Hospital – image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Taken by Chris Howells

This new and improved hospital is vital for the people of Liverpool, but now, the new modern Royal hospital stands empty and will remain that way until it is ready in 2020. So, where did it all go wrong for Liverpool’s new Royal hospital?

It’s no secret the Royal Hospital has faced countless setbacks on redevelopment, with a timeline of events stretching back to 2013. The scheme was well behind its original schedule, even before Carillion, the UK’s second-largest construction company, was forced into liquidation, with issues discovered on the site which forced the project to be halted.

Building site at the rear of The Royal Liverpool Hospital (2014) – Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, by Rept0n1x

The new £335m, 646-bed Royal Hospital had an opening plan for March 2017 but was pushed back to a revised date of February 2018 due to the collapse of Carillion.

Although this was the case, it was told to the NHS Trust in December 2017 that it couldn’t meet those requirements either.

In December 2016, according to Carillion, cracks in the structural concrete beams had been discovered and the construction company had fitted the wrong cladding to the new building.

This created a huge setback for the development, meaning they had to halt the build.

New Royal Hospital Liverpool building site – Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons by Rept0n1x

Aidan Kehoe, previous chief executive at the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen Hospitals Trust said in a press release at the time, regarding the cracked beams: “We are aware that cracks were identified by Carillion and that these have been or will be fixed to ensure that the new Royal Liverpool University Hospital is safe.

“The fixing of these beams is partly responsible for the delay in opening the new Royal.”

In 2017, large quantities of asbestos were discovered on the construction site as well as flooding, which delayed the building even further.

It was at this time that Carillion fell under the weight of an estimated £1.5bn debt, after taking on too many contracts that were unprofitable as well as facing payment delays.

The £335m Royal Liverpool Hospital was one of Carillion’s biggest public sector setbacks.

Carillion was a big supplier to the public sector, and their collapse meant that not only were thousands of jobs at risk, but the public services they managed were under threat.

Carillion construction sign – Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, by Elliot Brown

Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson said in January last year regarding the collapse: “Clearly when a company of this size falls there are wide repercussions and the receivers should do all in their power to avoid disruption to vital public services and protect Carillion’s workforce and limit the impacts on the company’s supply chain.”

Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson – Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, taken by Richter Frank-Jurgen

Months, after the forced liquidation of Carillion, the Royal Liverpool Hospital released a statement in September 2018, it said: “The collapse of Carillion created an unprecedented situation with numerous complex legal and commercial issues that we have been working hard to try to find a solution to.”

In the same month, the government announced it would step in to get the new hospital built, and the scheme will be publicly funded.

They confirmed that public funding would be provided to help public services, like schools, that were ran by the construction firm.

The government backed the local trust’s proposal to end the private finance initiative (PFI) deal, minimising the delay in opening the hospital.

Despite the hospital being hospital being 85% finished, it is believed that £100 million out of the £325 million budget needs to be spent on remedial work, due to the structural damages that were later discovered.

The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust has signed a legal agreement to take back the running of the hospital.

Laing O’Rourke, a multinational construction company, were appointed in October 2018 to restart construction and management of the new hospital, and have cleared the site ahead of building work.

Laing O’Rourke Construction Company – Image courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons, by Kopiersperre

Aidan Kehoe said: “We are delighted to announce that we, The Hospital Company, lenders and the Government have all signed up to this agreement, that means construction can restart soon and that the new Royal will now be publicly funded.

“This agreement provides significant savings to the public sector and represents good value for money for the taxpayer.”

Director at Laing O’Rourke, Paul McNerney: “Laing O’Rourke is delivering the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre next door to the new Royal and had been working closely with the team there already.

“The business now looks forward to partnering with the Trust directly to re-start these important works for the local community.”

The firm is also working on the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre which is scheduled to be completed in Spring 2020.

Since November the firm have been carrying out various surveys of the building and in the New Year provided a detailed construction programme that set out the timescale for release in 2020.

The construction firm has also begun work to modify the ventilation system in the anaesthetic rooms in theatres.

Royal Liverpool University Hospital, Laing O’Rourke sign – Image courtesy of RHL website`

Andy Thomson, Laing O’Rourke’s project director, said: “The pace of delivery will grow in the New Year and all involved are energised and committed to completing the new Royal for the people of Liverpool.

“Having led the new Alder Hey Children’s hospital, I feel personally invested in Liverpool and proud to be leading completion of the new Royal.

“Laing O’Rourke is hugely proud to be playing its part in delivering facilities that will help improve healthcare across Merseyside.”

Once the new hospital has been built, the current standing Royal will be demolished, and an underground car park and space will be provided for the creation of the Liverpool Health Campus.

Royal Liverpool Hospital – Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, by Chris Howells

With the scheme for the new hospital back on track with new contractors and a finish date for 2020, what’s next?

The Royal Liverpool Hospital said: “We are working closely with Laing O’Rourke and external advisors on a fully costed assessment of all the works needed to complete the new Royal.

“This work is required for Laing O’Rourke’s construction programme, which we expect to receive by the end of March.

“Laing O’Rourke and their contractors are working to prepare areas of the building for remedial works to fix the structural issues that have already been identified.

“This is highly complex remediation work and requires significant interventions to the concrete frame, the internal finishes and outside of the building, but once complete will ensure that all the structural issues have been resolved.”

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, by Rept0n1x

According to the Royal Liverpool Hospital NHS Trust, it is spending more than £1 million this year on the current hospital, some of the money to modernise the lifts to transport patients, as well as ensuring they have vital parts at the hospital for heating and ventilation systems and increasing maintenance for important systems and equipment.

“Whilst we remain in the current Royal, we are doing all that we can to keep vital systems and equipment operational and our patients and staff safe.”

It’s been a challenging journey for everyone involved in the development of the new Royal hospital, but there’s still a long way to go until patients and staff can finally move into the new and improved facility in 2020.

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