Ground has been broken on the proposed site of a new ultra-modern elective surgical hub in the grounds of St Austell Community Hospital.

Currently awaiting planning permission, the £15-million modular build will deliver an estimated 5,000 day surgery procedures annually.

The hub will have two theatres, four recovery bays and six pre-op assessment rooms, as well as a reception and waiting areas.

The increased capacity will enable patients to have treatment in St Austell rather than travelling to the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro or Derriford Hospital in Plymouth. It is also expected to reduce waiting times for surgery.

The ground-breaking ceremony took place on Tuesday, January 30. Once approved, the unit is scheduled to be open for patients in the summer.

The elective surgical hub will be owned by Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and operated by clinicians from Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust.

Steve Williamson, chief executive of Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “If you are a resident of mid, north or east Cornwall, you may be able to receive your care in St Austell rather than travelling to the Royal Cornwall Hospital or Derriford Hospital in Plymouth.

“It is fantastic, as we know that travel is one of the factors that can add to the stress and challenges of having surgery. That care close to home is really important.”

Mr Williamson added: “Having two extra operating theatres increases our overall capacity. That is really important as we look to reduce the waiting times for surgeries. That is happening right across the NHS.”

As divisional member for the area including St Austell Community Hospital — formerly known as Penrice Hospital — Cllr James Mustoe represented Cornwall Council at the ground-breaking ceremony.

“Having lived and worked in Mevagissey and St Austell all my life, Penrice Hospital has been a key part of life for my family and so many other local residents,” he said.

“Both my children were born there, my grandma spent time there towards the end of her life, and we have all had cause to visit the minor injuries unit at various times. Community hospitals are critical parts of the local health infrastructure, so it is fantastic that the NHS has chosen to invest in the Penrice site in this way.

“The elective surgical hub will take the pressure off other local NHS services, help clear the backlog and bring in extra jobs to the area, and I hope it will become operational as soon as possible.”

Steve Double, MP for St Austell and Newquay, was in Parliament and unable to attend the ceremony, but visited the site on Friday to look at the plans and lent his “strong support” to the development.

He wrote on Cornwall Council’s planning portal: “I note that as MP, I am not part of the planning process and not a statutory consultee, so it is unusual for me to make such a representation. However the importance of this application to St Austell and the surrounding area should not be under-estimated.

“I have long been a supporter of our community hospitals, and the need to ensure they get investment, both to keep the pressure off the Royal Cornwall Hospital but also to ensure residents around Cornwall get access to the NHS services they need, closer to the areas they live in.

“It is great that the NHS is prioritising the site with its plans to build this new elective surgical hub in the grounds of the existing hospital.

“This will improve the services on offer at the site, mean more patients can be seen and treated there, and take pressure off other NHS services both locally and around Cornwall. It will also provide more jobs for key workers in the town.”

Mr Double urged that the application be passed as soon as possible, to meet the deadlines for drawing down NHS funding and “to ensure the people of St Austell and the surrounding communities are able to access this support in the near future”.

Debbie Richards, chief executive of Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said the development would build on the success of joint working, like the community diagnostic centre recently opened in Bodmin.

“This is a really important milestone of our partnership with the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, but also the work that is being enabled by NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Integrated Care Board,” she said.

The hub will be built by ModuleCo, the Gloucestershire-based healthcare division of BRG Technologies, which has been building specialist facilities for the global healthcare sector for over two decades. Modular construction will enable it to be assembled and brought into use very quickly.

For more information, visit Cornwall Council’s planning portal and search for PA23/10391.