Plans to get a new Birmingham Dental Hospital up and running have received a new lease of life that could see it finally opens its doors within the next four years. Health Correspondent Alison Dayani reports.

It has been six years since the excitement of an imminent new Birmingham Dental Hospital and School was quashed with a short, sharp shock due to a lack of funding.

Despite that disappointment, dental executives have never given up hope and, from the ashes, those plans have been resurrected with a realistic end in sight.

The move could also pave the way for redevelopment of the current city centre site as a major extension to Birmingham Children’s Hospital, something the former chief executive Paul O’Connor was keen to do once the dental hospital was knocked down.

Solihull Care Trust has taken over the helm from NHS South Birmingham and is preparing to approve the latest £100 million proposals at its board meeting next month.

Rick Roberts, medical director at South Birmingham Community Health, who is co-leading the project as a dentist with fellow medic and Solihull dentistry director Marcus Woof, described how there was now a “strong case” to put before regional health managers and ultimately the Treasury.

They are currently assessing the best option between disused land in Battery Park, off Harborne Lane, Selly Oak, or the former BBC site, off Pebble Mill, Edgbaston.

“The current building has engineering problems,” said Mr Roberts. “It’s safe but there are too many problems with the infrastructure to modernise it for the 21st Century.

“There are a lot of concrete pillars that can’t be moved and the gap between the pillars doesn’t allow space for modern layouts. We need to provide a new building with modern facilities that will be much more cost-effective and future-proof. Doing nothing is not an option.”

Mr Roberts explained that problems include having to constantly treat the water to prevent Legionnaire’s disease, due to the age of the building and plumbing, plus asbestos installation that has been partitioned off but has to be contained and limits maintenance work and development.

“The ten-storey Whittall Street building was designed in the early 1960s and it is no longer up to date,” said Mr Roberts. “The way that dentistry is done has changed. Back then dentists would stand up with the patient in a chair, now dentists are in a seat over the patient lying down.

“We plan to still have a multifloor building but the complex will be more spread out with fewer floors but a bigger footprint and more cost-effective to run as we won’t have issues of having to move things up and down all the time.

“There will be a different layout making sure departments that patients use are closer together so they don’t have to move around as much.

“There will be 159 dental chairs, which is an 11 per cent reduction on the current hospital, but we plan to have extended working hours three days a week and put those chairs to greater use. The capital cost will be between £70 and £100 million.”

Executives have already ruled out a controversial Private Finance Initiative (PFI), when the NHS is only leasing a building from private contractors who designed and built the project, focusing instead on a NHS Local Improvement Finance Trust (LIFT) scheme, which is a joint venture between the NHS and a private company, when both co-own the building.

That could mean it is approved more swiftly by the Treasury, which could have the plans in hand within a year under current rough estimations.

With two to three years to complete building work, if all keeps to target, Birmingham could finally see a state-of-the-art dental hospital open its doors by 2014.

Although original plans for a flagship dental hospital school got as far as a public consultation but suddenly failed to get off the ground in 2004 due to funding problems, there is a determined push to make sure history does not repeat itself.

“People were disappointed after getting as far as the public consultation to see nothing happen, but we believe this time we are building something which is future-proof with much more flexibility.”

*An average of 130,000 patients are treated at the current hospital every year.
* It employs 400 NHS workers and 300 University staff and has an annual intake of 75 undergraduate dental students.
* Birmingham’s first dental hospital was created in 1858, the first of its kind in the country, and the current building is the sixth replacement. The previous hospital was knocked down to make way for the city’s Queensway in the 1960s.
* Birmingham University was the first to grant dental degrees.