“THE empty floor at the new Townlands Hospital in Henley shows no sign of being occupied in the near future.
Health chiefs would like the town’s two GP surgeries to move in but negotiations over rent believed to be around £250,000 a year have failed to produce a deal.
The space is being advertised on the Government’s property finder website, leading to speculation that a private healthcare provider might be interested in it.
The hospital was still being built when Sue Ryder pulled out of a deal to relocate its hospice in Nettlebed to Townlands in December 2014. The building was completed in February and opened to patients in March.
Last summer, GPs at the Hart and Bell surgeries said they would be interested in relocating but they have not agreed a rental deal with NHS Property Services, which owns the building.
Philip Unwin, senior partner at the Hart Surgery, said: “We are trying to do it but at the moment NHS Property Services is advertising it on the open market to try to get a bigger rent.
“The best way of securing healthcare services for Henley in the long term is if we move up there and rent it on a long-term lease. It would be a really tight hub of medical services for Henley and the surrounding area.
“There’s a very small window of opportunity and if we don’t grasp it we will miss out. It would be the perfect site for us to move to but we need everybody to be on side to be able to do that.
“I understand why they are advertising it but I hope it’s going to be too expensive for anyone to take the bait. If someone does, we will stay where we are and plod on.”
Ian Reissmann, who chairs the Townlands Steering Group, said the most important thing was that a tenant was found as soon as possible.
He said: “We don’t want to see an empty floor. This hospital has been built to provide medical services and we want these much-needed services to be provided locally.
“Moving the GPs in there would not be straightforward and even if everyone wants to see it happen it’s unlikely to be quick.”
Cllr Reissmann said he would be reluctant to see a private company move in but this might be the only option.
He said: “I’d like to see NHS Property Services bring in other services from the Royal Berkshire Hospital and other providers rather than some sort of private provider.
“It’s an NHS hospital and we want to see NHS services available for free there, which is what we were promised.
“It’s important that the hospital is financially viable and while the hospital isn’t occupied fully then the financial model is not as originally planned, which is a concern.
“My first preference for the empty floor is NHS services which are free to use and my second choice is the GPs. My third choice, if there’s really nothing else, is to reluctantly allow someone to move in there to provide paid-for services. The worst option of all is to leave the floor empty.
“If NHS Property Services was serious about sorting out the problem they would have.
“They’ve known about Sue Ryder for 18 months and they could have made arrangements for someone to move in at least temporarily.”
Henley MP John Howell said: “Who goes on the floor is a matter for the NHS and Townlands Hospital to decide.
“The doctors should get a move on and finalise their bid. It would be good to have them there so they need to make sure they put in a good bid.”
A spokesman for NHS Property Services said: “We are continuing negotiations with prospective occupiers of the second floor.
“It is important to secure tenants for this prime site as soon as possible and we are exploring all options. Rent would be discussed as part of negotiations with prospective tenants.
“As previously stated, we have informed public sector partners that the space is available by listing it on the Government’s electronic property information mapping service for 40 working days.
“After this period, the property also appears on the Government’s property finder website. We have not placed the property on the open market at this stage.”