A dispute has broken out between Chelsea’s famous Royal Brompton and Royal Marsden hospitals. Late last year the Royal Brompton, a specialist heart and lung centre which collaborates on much of its research with Imperial College, publicly announced plans to sell off its Fulham Road building in order to fund improvements on its nearby Sydney Street site. The Royal Marsden, a hospital focusing on cancer treatment and research, had expressed interest in buying the building, which is located between the Royal Marsden and the Institute of Cancer Research, as early as 2009. The Royal Marsden had set aside up to £30 million to purchase the site, however the Royal Brompton has decided to sell the building to a private housing developer, hoping to get a price of over £500 million.

In a Draft Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) – which outlines its long term strategy for the site but does not constitute a formal planning application –the Royal Brompton Hospital has described how the development is necessary since its widely-spread buildings “are no longer operationally satisfactory for the hospital” with “seriously ill patients [having] to be transferred between buildings for treatment by wheelchair, trolley or ambulance”. Selling off outlying buildings will allow it to focus on creating “an integrated hospital on the site of the Sydney Street campus, combining a new building with the existing Sydney Wing”. The hospital has defended its plans to seek the highest possible price for any buildings that it sells of, indicating that sum that the Royal Marsden is prepared to pay is not enough to fund its Sydney Street redevelopment plan.

Speaking to Felix, a Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson denied that the Fulham Road site was currently on sale or that a formal planning application has been submitted to the Borough Council, though they did not rule out that that this might happen at some point in the future. They added: “ We propose to fund … improvements by selling some of the sites we own and our charity owns in Chelsea at residential values. We need to raise about £580m to build a new hospital. Without this we cannot improve our facilities to the level needed. We will be forced to remain in current buildings, including Fulham Wing, and continue to apply costly temporary fixes and remedial works so that patients can continue to get the care they need. If we do sell Fulham Wing it will not be vacated until 2024 at the earliest, when facilities would be available for patients in a new building on Sydney Street.”

However, the Royal Marsden has argued that allowing them to take over the building would be in the public interest. In an email sent to local residents, Royal Marsden staff campaigning against the Royal Brompton plans said: “We are currently operating at maximum capacity and have no more room to expand our Chelsea site for further world class research, clinical trials and patient care. The Fulham Road Wing will allow us to increase both our NHS and Private Care provision and expand research capacity to cope with current and future demand.” It has been estimated that acquiring the Fulham Road building would allow the hospital to treat twice as many patients as it currently does. Commentators have suggested that, should the Royal Marsden be unable to acquire the building, and therefore be unable to expand its Chelsea site, it might decide to leave central London altogether and relocate to secondary site at Sutton.

Responding to the points raised by the Royal Marsden, the Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson said: “The Royal Marsden has not formally made an offer to acquire Fulham Wing. When the Royal Marsden raised the issue of a lack of space earlier this year we made an offer of 50,000 sq feet in the new hospital development as a potential solution. This offer was made three times before being rejected by the Royal Marsden as insufficient for their needs.”

The Conservative controlled Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council has been accused of not listening to local residents’ concerns about the Royal Brompton’s plans. Selling the building to a housing developer would mean having to change the building’s planning classification – effectively giving the Council the power to block any sale by refusing to agree to the change. Three local residents – Heinz Schumi, Ian Henderson and Andrew Barshall – have decided to stand as independents in the upcoming local election for Stanley Ward, which contains both hospitals, in protest of the Council’s perceived inaction on this and other contentious planning issues. With a great deal of negative feedback received during its consultation period of the SPD submitted by the Royal Brompton Hospital, including a petition signed by over 7500 people, the Council is now likely to discuss the issue at an official Full Council Meeting.

At the time of going to print the Royal Marsden was not able to provide an official comment on the dispute. However, senior sources at the hospital have indicated that they believe that the strong public support of their position means that the issue will get a full and fair debate at the Council.