NHS trust unveil £45m hospital plan to East Cambs planners

Princess of Wales Hospital, Ely, unveils its vision for the future

Princess of Wales Hospital, Ely, unveils its vision for the future, as an application for a £45m refurbishment and expansion goes to East Cambs planners - Credit: NHS Trust

Opened in July, 1940, for the RAF and renamed in 1987, plans have been submitted for a £45 million re-development of the Princess of Wales Hospital, Ely.  

It was closed by the RAF in 1992 but after local pressure was taken over by the NHS and became a community hospital. 

Proposed Indicative 3D Massing Visual of Princess of Wales hospital expansion 

Proposed Indicative 3D Massing Visual of Princess of Wales hospital expansion - Credit: NHS Trust

Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust has set itself “an ambitious target to deliver the redevelopment by December 2023”. 

The project is subject to securing government funding and will be built in phases, a four floor, multi-storey car park early on. 

Then will come new hospital premises enabling services to move in: the day surgery will be refurbished and old buildings demolished.  

Only four acres of the wider hospital site is included: new housing and/or a care home could come later. 

Diana, Princess of Wales when she visited Ely in 1987.

Diana, Princess of Wales when she visited Ely in 1987. - Credit: Cambridgeshire Community Archive


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“Surplus land is not needed for healthcare but is a valuable asset in terms of the trust’s finances,” it says. 

“Whilst at the outline stage, the proposed scale of the new hospital will increase the existing accommodation from 6100 square metres to 8000 square metres.” 

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The trust describes the hospital as a “fundamental societal entity within the Ely community and the wider area beyond.  

One of many visuals produced to show the new look Princess of Wales hospital should a £45 refurbishment and expansion goes...

One of many visuals produced to show the new look Princess of Wales hospital should a £45 refurbishment and expansion goes ahead - Credit: NHS Trust

“The proposals fit within the trust’s aspirations to develop the existing site for continued healthcare use.  

“In order for the scheme to be financially viable it is proposed that parts of the site are to be retained for future development for other uses.” 

The primary buildings range in age from the 1940s to the early 1990s.  

Much of the original hospital estate remains which the trust says impedes the delivery of modern, 21st century healthcare and, if not re-built will contribute to a slow deterioration in the quality of services over time.  

Visual of the roadside view of expansion at Princess of Wales hospital

Visual of the roadside view of expansion at Princess of Wales hospital - Credit: NHS Trust

“The age of many buildings means that the infrastructure is often beyond its expected useful life,” it says. 

“A large proportion of the current hospital was designed to provide ward-based acute care to inpatients. 

“As such it does not lend itself easily to the outpatient or day service activity that is the basis of a large proportion of services provided from the site.” 

It says the layout is extremely inefficient and incompatible with modern service delivery models and accommodation standards.  

“Car parking is as an issue, in that, at peak times there is an insufficient number of parking bays available,” it says in its application.  

“It is likely that such provision would be in the order of some 270 spaces which would be some 50 per cent above existing levels. 

“It is important that the car park is constructed in the first phase and that cars and their movements do not conflict with the operational requirements of the site as a whole.” 

Parking will be free as the trust wants to discourage anyone from parking on the surrounding streets. 

One of the drawings submitted to support the £45 expansion of the Princess of Wales hospital, Ely 

One of the drawings submitted to support the £45 expansion of the Princess of Wales hospital, Ely - Credit: NHS Trust

The trust says it wants to be “good neighbours and recognise the concerns of residents living close to the planned car park”.  

The trust says a “significant effort” was made to engage with groups and individuals in advance of the submission of the planning application and in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

In ‘normal’ circumstances, a public exhibition would have been held “but clearly this event could not have happened in the current pandemic”.  

The trust says it created a website for feedback and 30,000 homes were sent an A5 flyer.  

The vast majority of responses were said to positive. 

Although the final use of space is yet to be agreed, the trust believes the ground floor will comprise an urgent care centre, GP surgeries, imaging department, dental department, 23 hour stay/theatre admissions and a pharmacy. 

There will also be a café in the main entrance foyer. 

Since it was first planned, RAF Ely has had a big impact on the city of Ely

Since it was first planned, RAF Ely has had a big impact on the city of Ely - Credit: Ely Museum


"At first floor, the interior could include a general shared outpatients department with a therapies zone, neuro rehabilitation and the retained day surgery,” says the trust. 

The Cathedral Medical Centre services will be delivered from new accommodation within the hospital and the trust hopes to provide scope for more GP and primary care capacity.  

The second floor would be predominantly a staff facilities area, with a large open plan office space, staff social space and changing facilities.  

However, there is also a wellbeing hub, which will serve as bookable spaces for a range of uses.  

The trust says that in view of a resource issue within the NHS brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, it has not been possible to finalise all matters of design and layout. 

 "Consequently, the trust has had to adapt to these new circumstances and has taken the decision to submit an outline planning application with the means of access, layout and scale being detailed within the application,” it says. 

Appearance and landscaping will be included in a later reserved matters application. 

During the consultation, the trust was asked what is happening to the RAF memorial garden at the site. 

The trust says that “it is recognised that the hospital has a much-loved history, not least the memorial garden in the grounds.  

“The trust will ensure this history is not lost and will build features from the past into the new buildings and landscape.” 

However, the trust has ruled out any possibility of A&E services. It would require, for example, surgical, trauma, anaesthetic, orthopaedic and intensive care services “ to name but a few.  

“There are no plans for this level of services and infrastructure to be delivered on this community hospital site.” 

But there will be an expanded range of urgent care services including a greater range of diagnostic facilities. 

The out-patient and casualty departments at the hospital were opened by the Princess Royal in April 1963

The out-patient and casualty departments at the hospital were opened by the Princess Royal in April 1963 - Credit: Ely Museum

Plans include x-ray, mammography, ultrasound, CT and facilities to dock mobile equipment such as an MRI.  

“The design and layout of treatment rooms would also enable patients to be fitted with monitoring equipment such as echo-cardiogram,” says the trust.  

It also hopes to “enhance the provision of urgent care at POW from the current minor injuries unit to an urgent treatment centre”. 

The Ely RAF hospital was finally ready and officially opened in July 1940.  

As the war progressed and the RAF continued to grow, with more airfields and many more aircraft flying from East Anglia, the Ely hospital needed to grow as well and by the summer of 1943 the number of beds had increased from 230 to over 500. 

When the Second World War ended in September 1945 the RAF began closing many wartime airfields and facilities, but with its modern equipment and good location the Ely hospital, or RAF Ely as it was known, was kept on.  

For over 50 years the hospital treated countless members of the RAF, and the public, as well as being an important training facility for medical personnel. 

NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said: “There is an ambitious timescale to deliver by December 2023.  

“As I’ve said before, it’s key that low risk, high volume, routine services are delivered close to home and for many, particularly in the south of the constituency, this will be welcome news.” 

He said the opportunities presented by the investment brings for integrated mental, physical and social health “should not be underestimated and I look forward to following the progress closely”. 

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