Rishi Sunak has delivered an update on the position of the government over Shropshire's long-running 'Future Fit' Hospitals Transformation Programme (HTP), for both Royal Shrewsbury Hospital (RSH) and Princess Royal Hospital (PRH) in Telford.
The plans for the hospitals, both managed by Shrewsbury & Telford Hospitals NHS Trust (SaTH) have been beset by delays, along with considerable opposition from some health campaigners and Telford & Wrekin Council.
The Prime Minister has now responded to two of the county's MPs, Shrewsbury & Atcham's Daniel Kawczynski and Ludlow's Philip Dunne, giving his verdict on the state of the scheme.
Mr Sunak has also confirmed the release of nearly £10m for the next stage of the programme – the development of the Outline Business Case, which is currently being worked on.
Once that is a approved a Full Business Case will be submitted with approval then finally allowing work to start.
Mr Sunak has added that the government would consider releasing other funding to develop the plans.
SaTH has said it is hopeful that work on the proposals could start next year.
The Future Fit plans have been in development for a number of years, and have faced repeated delays since the county was awarded £312m to carry out the work in 2018.
They will see major changes to which services are provided at either hospital.
Under the plan RSH becomes the centre for emergency care, while PRH becomes the focus of planned care.
It would see RSH become home to the county's only 24-hour full A&E unit – currently both hospitals have them, but they have faced huge difficulties in meeting waiting targets.
Staff at the trust have argued that the work is essential to improve care and retain and attract workers, but critics have voiced concern at what they consider a 'downgrade' of services at Telford.
In his letter Mr Sunak welcomes the progress on the scheme so far.
He said: "I want to assure you that the government fully recognises the need to invest in improving health infrastructure across the country. As part of this, we are investing £1.7bn in a hospital upgrade programme, which includes Shropshire's HTP.
"I am pleased that the Strategic Outline Case was approved in August 2022, allowing the Shrewsbury & Telford Hospital NHS Trust to move to the next stage in the business case process.
"I understand that, to support the trust to develop the Outline Business Case, a sum of £9.9m has been approved in principle and the case is due to be submitted to the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) in the coming months.
"I know that the DHSC will continue to work closely with colleagues in NHS England and the trust to support the development of the scheme and consider appropriate timing and phasing in the context of budget planning. Further early funding may be made available for business case fees or enabling works, and the department and NHS England will consider requests as they review and plan budgets for the current financial year."
He adds: "I look forward to seeing your scheme progress."
Responding to the letter, Mr Kawczynski said: "The Prime Minister has now personally assured me about his support towards the Hospitals Transformation Programme, and I am comforted by his recognition of how important it is to deliver this vital scheme for Shropshire and Mid Wales.
"I am excited by his assurance, as well as his mention of £9.9 million to support the Outline Business Case which I will press the Government about to ensure it is received by the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust."
Mr Dunne added: "Shropshire MPs are united in getting the £300m + capital investment allocated for Shropshire and Telford acute hospitals, through the NHS approval process so we can start the building works as soon as possible, as this is critical to improving patient outcomes here in Shropshire."