Revised plans for new Sunderland Eye Infirmary on former Vaux site - with extra space for patients to help cut hospital waiting lists
Revised plans for a new eye hospital on Wearside have been submitted in a bid to boost capacity for patients and reduce waiting lists.
Sunderland City Council approved plans for a multi-million pound specialist facility on the former Vaux Brewery site in November 2021.
Working with South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust (STSFT), the city council had submitted proposals to its own planning department as part of the wider regeneration of Riverside Sunderland.
The £36million NHS hub is set to replace the existing Sunderland Eye Infirmary building on Queen Alexandra Road, which has been in operation for more than 75 years.
It will also mean that Sunderland will remain home to the region’s only standalone eye hospital, and one of the few specialist centres for ophthalmology nationally.
The previously approved eye hospital scheme included a four-storey building with an additional energy centre and cycle hub.
Revised plans, submitted to Sunderland City Council in August, 2022, said the Covid-19 pandemic has had a “major impact” on NHS services, with the initial outbreak requiring planned treatments to be postponed in order to reallocate staff and increase bed capacity for patients with the virus.
As a result of this response, a planning statement explains, the NHS is facing a national backlog in health and social care services and long waiting lists for treatment.
Sunderland City Council, working with STSFT bosses, recently launched a feasibility study which looked at options to “increase cataract treatment capacity in order to address the issue of backlog in elective surgeries”.
Following this study, extra accommodation is now proposed on the third and fourth floors, with a wider aim to co-locate services for “optimum patient and staff flows”.
The revised planning application will allow interior expansion of the building should this be required in future.
According to documents submitted to council planners, the eye hospital would be able to accommodate up to 342 staff by 2030, which is a maximum increase of 30 from the previously approved scheme.
Four additional public drop off and pick up spaces are also proposed to the north of the main building to “reflect the additional clinical accommodation included in the scheme”.
Peter Sutton, executive director of planning and business development at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, has welcomed the proposed changes.
He said: “We are currently exploring the possibility of further expanding our capacity within the new eye hospital to support the recovery of waiting lists across the region for people waiting for eye treatment.
“Whilst this would not change the exterior look of the hospital, it would mean some reconfiguration inside to provide additional theatre capacity.
“It makes sense that we look at this now, before building work starts to make sure that we have all relevant planning permissions should we need to change the interior footprint.”
Planning permission for the region’s new state-of-the-art eye hospital in Sunderland was granted last year and building work is on track to begin on site next spring.
All clinical services currently provided from the existing Sunderland Eye Infirmary will transfer to the new facility to be delivered from a purpose-built environment in an accessible city centre location.
A decision on revised plans for the eye hospital development is expected to be made by Sunderland City Council later this year.