The debacle of Altrincham’s £24m Health and Wellbeing Centre is well known – but what is less documented up to now has been the cost to frontline services in Trafford.
That is put right today with a searing insight into the struggle for funding faced by the parents of a severely disabled 11-year-old girl in Altrincham.
That this struggle is being fought on a daily and continuing basis by the people widely credited as catalysts for the rejuvenation of Altrincham – thanks to the market they have totally transformed just yards from the Health and Wellbeing Centre – must surely inject some much-needed urgency into a situation that is now bordering on a scandal.
Nick Johnson and Jenny Thompson, well known to many in Altrincham as the operators of Altrincham Market and Market House, recently attended the Formal Governing Body meeting of Trafford’s Clinical Commissioning Group, the body ultimately responsible for the development of the 88,000 sq ft facility, which was completed in September 2018 after a two-year build project.
There they say they received confirmation from the CCG that the costs of the empty building – amounting to £40,000 per week – were taking funding away from frontline services.
Such an admission was particularly hard to bear for Nick and Jenny given the battle they have had with the CCG over funding to cover the essential needs of their daughter Kitt, who suffers from Rett Syndrome, a rare and debilitating neurological disorder that affects only girls.
Kitt developed normally until she was two years old and then started to lose the ability to walk, talk and function like a normal growing toddler. She developed severe and complex epilepsy and is doubly incontinent. She is a frequent familiar face at Altrincham Market, in her wheelchair.
For almost exactly the same time it took to build the health and wellbeing centre, Kitt’s parents have been fighting Trafford CCG for respite funding to cover her essential needs as a severely disabled child. They have been consistently denied.
“We have a lever arch file full of correspondence with over 25 different people that we have been battling with to try and secure some respite funding for Kitt which amounts to less than £15,000 a-year and yet the £40,000 a-week funding costs for this empty building seems to have been granted at the flick of a pen – that would fully fund the entire annual education and healthcare budget of more than 40 severely disabled kids in Trafford,” said Jenny.
“The worst thing about finding out you have a disabled child is not coming to terms with their disability, because Kitt enriches our lives in ways that are hard to imagine, it’s that you are thrust into a system of unfathomable complexity, there’s no advocate to help you navigate your way through the unnecessary complexities.
“It’s hard enough dealing with the endless sleepless nights and yet you have to fight, fight, fight all these different people to try and get funding to which you’re entitled.”
Back in 2016, local developer Citybranch agreed a £35m deal with investment company Canada Life to fund the construction of the four-floor replacement for the Victorian Altrincham General hospital. As part of the deal, ownership of the building transferred from Citybranch to Canada Life soon after completion.
Almost all the centre – 90% – has been let to NHS Property Services through a 30-year lease. The remaining 10% – the site of the newly opened Altrincham Library – is leased to Trafford Council.
Six tenants – including St John’s Medical Centre and Barrington Road Medical Centre – had originally intended to move into the centre, five of them on a cost-neutral basis, but withdrew when the CCG discovered a funding gap of £1.9m and determined it was “no longer in a position to commit to previous assurances given to providers regarding cost neutrality”.
A review of the debacle has been launched by Jon Rouse, chief officer for Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, and is currently being undertaken by EY.
But if no health services tenants can be persuaded to move in, the building faces the extraordinary prospect of being retrofitted into office space – at a further cost of at least £7.2m.
Nick Johnson said that the situation had been “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.
“We had to act, on behalf of all those parents and patients in Trafford disadvantaged at the hands of the CCG,” he said.
“The people who have profiteered out of this are local developer Adam Gross at Citybranch – rewarded with contracts to develop other Trafford ‘trophy assets’ including Altrincham’s Regent Road car park and Timperley’s Health centre – and Canada Life the pension giant that forward funded the deal.
“It’s just like the banks in the 2008 financial crisis – profits have been privatised and the losses nationalised with the taxpayer ultimately picking up the bill all at a time when the NHS is desperate for funding.”
He added: “Trying to identify who’s responsible for this even in the most ‘accountable’ of organisations is impossible – we even went to the last Trafford CCG Governing Body meeting with Kitt to try to find out, but all they would say was that ‘everyone associated with the ill-fated deal on the CCG Governing Board had now left’.
“The one thing that they accepted at that meeting in a public forum was that the annual cost of £1.9m was taking money away from frontline care. That’s cold comfort for families in Trafford whose care needs aren’t being met.”
Nick and Jenny have set up a Facebook forum for families in Trafford to come together, share their experiences and try and get the system changed.
“The CCG’s ultimate response of ‘we are where we are and we’re doing our best to mitigate the situation’ simply isn’t a good enough response to the people who are being denied modest funding at this building’s great expense.”
The Facebook site can be found at on Facebook at WTF4 – Worthy Trafford Families Fight For Funding.
Martyn Pritchard, Trafford CCG’s new Accountable Officer, said: “While I wouldn’t want to comment on the care of an individual person the new leadership team of the CCG is committed to making the best use of this building for people living in Trafford
“My job is to make sure we use all the money we have to fund the NHS in Trafford as best we can to provide the care and treatment that local people need. To this end I am leading the discussions with the relevant organisations so we can get health services delivered from the building as soon as possible.
“An independent review regarding how this situation arose has been commissioned and we will learn from this to ensure it cannot happen again.”
Adam Gross, director at developers Citybranch, said: “Along with everyone else in Altrincham I too am extremely disappointed that this fabulous facility is not fully occupied. However I am positive that Trafford CCG will resolve this situation as quickly as possible.”