£6million paid to a holiday resort in order to set up Covid pandemic field hospital
Katy Jenkins, local democracy reporter
An emergency field hospital set up as the global pandemic gathered speed last year resulted in around £6million paid to a local holiday resort.
Hywel Dda University Health Board worked with Pembrokeshire County Council in setting up a 126-bed covid-19 field hospital in April 2020, with Bluestone National Park Resort identified as the most suitable location.
In Ceredigion the county council’s leisure centre sites at Cardigan and Aberystwyth were used, as well as Ysgol Penweddig for a short time.
Hywel Dda supplied a break down of monthly costs at Ysbyty Carreg Las at Bluestone and Ysbyty Enfys Abertiefi and Aberystwyth under the Freedom of Information Act after deciding it was in the public interest to do so in April, following an initial request made in January.
The involved revenue costs provided – not including VAT of 20 per cent – total £4,322,500 with monthly expenditure varying from £730,000 a month to £292,500.
The capital funding via Pembrokeshire County Council of £3million as well as £1million to return the adventure centre to its original use was funded by Welsh Government capital funding.
Additional funding was proved for health board by Welsh Government for covid-19 responses, some of which “off-set” the cost of field hospitals.
“The higher costs earlier in the financial year are representative of estimated monthly costs at the time. The contracted costs were renegotiated mid-way through the year, this resulted in an overall reduction in expenditure of £67,200.00 plus VAT per week, which has been reflected over the remaining months,” adds the response.
The cost of Ysbyty Enfys Aberteifi and Aberystwyth were much lower with a total of £36,456, with no monthly expenditure recorded until August 2020 where £11,000 (not including VAT) was charged, followed by £16,000 a month, £52,000 in February 2021 and £20,000 in March.
“The UHB has received updated information from CCC confirming that some rates had not previously been accounted for; these have now been reflected in the uplift shown in February 2021,” states the response.
It adds: “The information provided is based on current forecasted costs for the financial year 2020/21, which includes all revenue running costs associated with Ysbyty Enfys Carreg Las Field Hospital, Ysbyty Enfys Aberteifi and Aberystwyth Field Hospitals. They reflect costs on an accruals basis i.e. costs may be accounted for before cash is paid out to Bluestone and Ceredigion County Council.”
Bluestone’s contract has now ended, with reinstatement costs incorporated within 2020/21 figures, and the health board says it does not anticipate any further costs for the Ceredigion field hospitals.
Discussing its plans for investment in the resort post-covid a Bluestone spokesman said: “The impact of coronavirus over the last 12 months has been incredibly challenging for hospitality businesses throughout Wales and the UK, including for Bluestone. The company’s hospitality sales have fallen by over £17.5m over the last year as a direct result of the pandemic.
“This has been partially offset by a £6m commercial partnership with Hywel Dda University Health Board for the use and restoration of Ysbyty Enfys Carreg Las. This includes work by teams across Bluestone – including HR, Health and Safety, IT, Security and operational staff.”
Around 30 beds were opened late last year at Ysbyty Enfys Carreg Las to support step-down patients and free up beds at other Hywel Dda hospitals.
Ysbyty Enfys Plascrug was also decommissioned at the end of March with Cardigan leisure centre retained as a test trace and protect and vaccination facility.
A similar FOI to Pembrokeshire County Council revealed that it did “not make any contributions to Bluestone Ltd or to the Hywel Dda University Health Board” and did not contribute to the running costs of the facility, with any staffing cost connected to the establishment of the facility recharged to the health board.
Ceredigion County Council acknowledged receipt of an initial request but did not respond, the information may be provided shortly following discussion with relevant departments.