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Grenfell firm to sue Whittington Hospital over axed estate deal

NHS campaigners say legal challenge is 'shameful'

30 August, 2018 — By Tom Foot

AN NHS hospital is facing legal action after axing a deal with a private company connected to the Grenfell Tower refurbishment, it emerged last night (Wednesday).

The Whittington, in Highgate, is facing a challenge from Ryhurst – part of the Rydon Group – after it abandoned a proposed 10-year deal with the company in June.

Jonathan Gardiner, the hospital’s director of strategy and corporate affairs, said in an email to campaigners and the New Journal yesterday: “I am replying on behalf of the board and can tell you that this procurement process is now subject to legal challenge, following action by Ryhurst.”

Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition chairwoman Shirley Franklin described the move as “shameful”, adding: “We need to rally round to oppose this. What I think is interesting is that they have the confidence to do this, to sue the NHS. It didn’t need to get this far.”

Ryhurst had been due to form a joint venture company with the hospital to mastermind the sale and redevelopment of NHS land and buildings. At a national rally, days after the decision, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Islington North MP, said the anti-Ryhurst campaign victory was of “great significance”.

The DWHC had campaigned against the plan to hire the firm so soon after the fire disaster in west London which killed 72 people. The circumstances are being investigated by a public inquiry. Ryhurst is a subsidiary of Rydon, lead contractor responsible for the clad­ding refurbishment of the tower. It has strenuously denied any culpability and said that its building work has always met government regulations. It has not been found responsible for any wrongdoing.

Hospital chiefs, including chairman Steve Hitchins and chief executive Siobhan Harrington, repeatedly warned that backing out of the deal with Ryhurst would lead to a lengthy and costly legal battle.

Mr Hitchins sensationally predicted last October that walking away from the deal would have catastrophic consequences – and even “shut down the hospital”. The hospital’s board, however, announced in June it would scrap the deal, claiming it had received an unexpected windfall – believed to be around £19million – from the Department for Health after successfully hitting various health-funding care targets. It said it could afford a legal battle and run its estate services in-house.

The cost of the legal challenge is unclear, but Ryhurst last year submitted a claim for £2million against the Countess of Chester Hospital Foundation Trust and Wirral University Teaching Hospitals – both in the north-west of England. Both NHS trusts had abandoned similar plans to hire the firm as a “strategic estates partner”. The two trusts said the decision had been taken partly because of “uncertainty and risks” in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

A Ryhurst spokeswoman said:  “We continue to be open to discussion with the Trust.”

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