THE long-awaited for £5m community hospital in Bicester has been delayed by at least four months after complications over financial guarantees.

Work was due to start in January but a contract between the PCT and developer Kajima has not been signed.

Funder, Aviva, has been seeking financial guarantees that the Government will repay any debts should the scheme fail.

But Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust said the guarantees are now in place and it was “pretty confident” the contracts would be signed in March.

Work is now scheduled to begin in June, with an opening date of July next year. The community hospital was originally due to open next February.

It replaces the current facility and will include 12 beds, out-patient accommodation, a minor injuries unit and ambulance base.

Campaigners welcomed the news but questioned, with Bicester’s population increasing, whether 12 beds would be enough.

Save Our Community Hospital chairman Les Sibley said: “I have learned that until it is signed, sealed and delivered we cannot get out the Champagne.

“But it is good news and we are all looking forward to the replacement hospital getting under way as soon as possible.”

He added: “I still have my concerns about whether 12 beds are actually enough for a growing community like Bicester.

“We will probably outgrow this hospital in terms of bed requirements when it opens next year.”

Bicester Community Hospital won planning permission in September and had its business case approved by the Strategic Health Authority in November.

But the project was set back in December when Aviva sought clarity from the Government about financial guarantees when the NHS changes in April.

On April 1, NHS premises will transfer from PCTs to the NHS Property Services Ltd, a new commercial limited company owned by the Department of Health.

Aviva wanted confirmation that the Government would repay money loaned to the scheme in the event the PCT could not pay rent.

Project director Riana Relihan, of Oxfordshire PCT, said: “The length of the delay is a little bit of an unknown at the moment.

“But our funder has confirmed the current terms remain and we are pretty confident they will have the nod to sign the agreement in March. I am very confident the project will go ahead.”

She said, if everything goes to plan, contractors will be agreed in April and work will start on the building in June for a July 2014 opening.