Brighton hospital plan is 'once in a lifetime' opportunity

Posted On 26 Jan 2012 at 4:55 pm

Some opportunities come along once in a lifetime. One of those opportunities is coming along tomorrow (Friday).

Twelve councillors will decide whether to approve a £420 million plan to modernise the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.

The aim of the scheme is to replace pretty much the whole of the southern half of the site – the buildings facing Eastern Road. And to perch a helipad on top of the existing Thomas Kemp Tower, the building in which thousands of Brightonians have been born.

If the plan is approved, bigger and better-equipped new buildings will go up. And the bulldozers will sweep away the pre-Victorian Barry Building, which dates from the 1820s. And the Jubilee Building, opened in 1887, will also be demolished.

The interior of the much-loved and admired chapel will be preserved and included in one of the replacement buildings.

The plans are a vital part of what is known as the 3Ts project. This involves modernising the Royal Sussex as it becomes the regional centre of excellence for the 3Ts:

  • Teaching,
  • Trauma and
  • Tertiary care.

The teaching bit is fairly obvious. The hospital jointly runs the newest – and most popular – medical school in the country with Brighton and Sussex universities.

Many patients’ first experience of trauma care is in A&E, although patients go to A&E with other problems. In layman’s terms, trauma usually involves broken bones or heavy bleeding or both. The bleeding may be internal and the trauma may involve serious head injuries. Car crashes and horse riding accidents are the most common causes.

Tertiary care is led by specialist consultants serving a much wider area than Brighton and Hove. They treat, among others, patients with cancer, kidney disease, HIV, heart and neurological problems and some of the children at the new Royal Alex.

While many of us have a fond regard for the Barry Building, it has been described as impractical, expensive to maintain and falling short of widely accepted modern standards.

Given the cramped nature of the Royal Sussex site, the Barry Building’s replacement will cover more ground and be five storeys tall. It will sit beside an 11-storey building with three “fingers” which will occupy much of the south eastern end of the Royal Sussex site.

Both new buildings will sit over an underground car park.

The possibility of moving has been mooted from time to time. Land was even identified as suitable for hospital buildings – at Falmer – although it was for complementary facilities not a replacement.

But plans to upgrade the current site have been the only serious proposals for the best part of 50 years.

Duane Passman, 48, who is leading the 3Ts project, said: “The expression of that was the Thomas Kemp Tower in 1969. The original plan was to have two more buildings like that, but given the economic circumstances of the time, they were canned.”


Mr Passman has led seven similar projects before and noted: “This is the one that needs it the most. The Barry Building is the second oldest building in the NHS in-patient inventory. We keep it dry. We keep it clean. We do the very best we can with it. We spend a lot of money on it and the medical staff do the best they can in the circumstances.”

He said that the wards occupied about 7,500 square metres whereas modern standards required about five times as much room.

He said: “First and foremost we are the district general hospital for Brighton and Hove. That’s where we come from and that’s the most important part of the development proposals.”

But, he added, there were solid evidence-based reasons for bringing services such as neurosciences from Haywards Heath to the Royal Sussex site.

He said: “If you’re going to get the best possible outcomes for patients, you need all those services under one roof. So when someone’s had a really bad accident or is seriously ill you’ve got all the right people in the same place.”

At the moment about a quarter of major trauma patients have to be sent to London or Southampton for treatment. They have the nearest hospitals with all the relevant specialists – to treat injuries to the head and body – under one roof.

Despite his expertise Mr Passman said: “It’s a very complicated and challenging task. We’re trying to make sure the clinical objectives are met as well as the planning objectives of national planning policy and local planning policy.

“We’re trying to meet these objectives with the shape and the form of the buildings. We’ve designed them from the inside out and the outside in. We’re trying to get the inside right and be mindful of the exterior and the common reference points.

“We’ve been very mindful and respectful of the comments we’ve received. We’ve tried to be clear about what we can do and what we can’t do.”


Design changes had been made as a result of people’s comments, including moving the helipad from the new 11-storey building to the top of the Thomas Kemp Tower. And the operating guidance would reflect neighbours’ concerns about noise.

He said: “People have lived in the locality for many years and change can be very difficult. We’ve tried to be sensitive.”

He had challenged the team behind the new Royal Alex – a building that has won 70 national and international design awards – to exceed themselves, adding: “We want something as good as that if not better.”

Apart from saving more lives and enabling a better quality of life for those who have been treated, the project will bring more jobs to Brighton. Hundreds of jobs will be created during the ten-year construction process, many of them local. And more medical and support staff will work at the modernised hospital.

Mr Passman pointed out: “It sounds like a cliché but it really is a once in a generation opportunity we’ve got.

“It’s subject to the planning committee but we’ve got the business case. The climate is right. We’ve spent quite a lot of time making sure there’s buy-in for this – not just at the local level but at national level too.

“If it doesn’t happen, it will be 20 years before we get another opportunity like this.”

The five main aims

1 Replace ageing buildings – The Barry Building opened nearly 200 years ago. The wards are cramped and will be replaced with modern facilities which are welcoming, accessible and purpose-built for the provision of 21st century healthcare.

2 Neurosciences – the Hurstwood Park Regional Centre for Neurosciences is being relocated from the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath to Brighton. This will place neurosciences alongside other key emergency services, enabling the Royal Sussex to be the major trauma centre for Sussex and the South East. It will ensure more co-ordinated treatment, on one site, for the most seriously ill and injured patients.

3 Sussex Cancer Centre – although the centre includes some relatively new buildings, growing demand means that it needs to expand. It will include a new chemotherapy day unit, a bigger radiotherapy service and new cancer wards which will be able to take twice as many patients.

4 Major Trauma Centre – the modern new buildings and the incorporation of neurosciences will enable the Royal Sussex to be the major trauma centre for the region. This will save hundreds of patients a year – and their families, friends and carers – from having to go to London.

5 Brighton and Sussex Medical School – the new buildings will also include state-of-the-art teaching, training and research facilities for Brighton and Sussex Medical School and provide better links between teaching, research and treatment.

What happens when

The time line is subject to planning permission being granted on Friday and approval being granted each step of the way by the Department of Health and the Treasury.

Spring 2012 – Preparation of temporary buildings, including a six-storey building bordering Eastern Road, begins. Work will also start on the air ambulance landing pad.

Summer 2012 – Services and staff affected by the construction of Stage 1 begin move to alternative locations, including the old St Mary’s Hall school buildings.

Spring 2013 – Stage 1 construction begins. This involves building an 11-storey three-fingered tower block.

Spring 2017 – Stage 1 is completed and ready for use. The Barry Building is demolished. Construction of Stage 2 begins. The Stage 2 building is five storeys high.

Autumn 2020 – Stage 2 is completed.

Spring 2021 – A new service yard is created and the entire redevelopment is complete.

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