The announcement that the Government has launched the ‘largest hospital building programme in a generation’ has been met with scepticism, with fears many of the projects will never go ahead and calls for a more-long-term solution to improving the NHS estate.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced a cash injection this week as part of a new Health Infrastructure Plan.
We now have a new chancellor, but no declaration so far of a new policy. Without it, we are likely to have no money, and no new hospitals
At the centre of the plan is a new hospital building programme, with a £2.8billion investment that gives six new large hospitals the funding to go ahead, with plans to deliver them by 2025.
A further 21 schemes have also been given the green light, with the seed funding they need to develop their business cases and with the aim of delivering between 2025-2030, subject to business case approvals.
In total this programme, the Government claims, involves more than 40 hospital building projects as some schemes involve the development of more than one hospital site.
But the announcement has drawn criticism, including concerns from the health think tank, The King’s Fund.
Commenting on the proposals, Richard Murray, chief executive, said: “On the face of it, the various schemes being pledged by the Government certainly sound like substantial investment. But these piecemeal announcements are not the same as having a proper, multi-year capital funding plan.
“The lack of clarity around how the new schemes have been selected, and how the pledges fit within the Department for Health and Social Care’s overall financial settlement, makes it difficult to tell how generous the Government is being.”
On the face of it, the various schemes being pledged by the Government certainly sound like substantial investment. But these piecemeal announcements are not the same as having a proper, multi-year capital funding plan
In its statement, the Government said that six trusts would share £2.7billion in funding. They are: Barts Health NHS Trust; Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust; West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust; Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust; University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust; and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
The 21 schemes receiving £100m of seed funding include Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge; Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham; and North Manchester General Hospital.
But Murray said: “The announcement focuses on new schemes at acute hospitals, but a longer-term investment programme is also needed to tackle the £6billion NHS maintenance backlog, upgrade GP surgeries that are no longer fit for purpose, and modernise the NHS so it can take advantage of new technology, particularly given the ambitions of the NHS Long-Term Plan to develop facilities in the community.
And he added: “As well as shoring up buildings, urgent action is needed to shore up the NHS workforce. Severe staff shortages are the biggest challenge facing the health service, with nearly 100,000 vacancies in NHS trusts.
“If the government really wants get the best value out of this new capital spending; it will need considering alongside a comprehensive plan to tackle staffing shortages in both the NHS and social care, future plans for public health spending, and investment in social care, to help keep people well for as long as possible and out of hospital when they don’t need to be there.”
His concerns are echoed by the Keep Our NHS Public campaign.
The lack of clarity around how the new schemes have been selected, and how the pledges fit within the Department for Health and Social Care’s overall financial settlement, makes it difficult to tell how generous the Government is being
A statement by co-chair, retired paediatrician, Dr Tony O’Sullivan; and secretary and health policy academic, Dr John Lister, states: “34 of the ’40 new hospitals’ announced by Boris Johnson in time for the Conservative Party Conference are, in fact, existing hospitals which are being given only £100m between them for repairs.
“In fact there is a £6billion deficit in new building, repairs, and equipment.
“Johnson claimed to be 'announcing' 40 hospitals, but almost at once it became clear only six of the projects are to start now.
“The remainder may never happen at all. 21 more schemes, one of which is for up to 12 small community hospitals, will not be funded, or begin, until at least 2025.”
Describing the capital injection as ‘misleading’; they added that it has to be set against the current £6billion deficit and the fact that the money has been pledged over five to 10 years.
“The 21 schemes that are being deferred are to share a mere £100m ‘seed money’ to begin thinking about the new hospitals in six years time,” they add.
“But the use of this term raises questions over how these additional projects are to be funded.
Johnson claimed to be 'announcing' 40 hospitals, but almost at once it became clear only six of the projects are to start now. The remainder may never happen at all
“Seed funding is normally followed by seeking the remainder of the cash from various banks and other sources. But, at the end of last year, Philip Hammond announced the Government would sign off no more projects funded through the Private Finance Initiative.
“We now have a new chancellor, but no declaration so far of a new policy. Without it, we are likely to have no money, and no new hospitals.”
These concerns come as The Health Foundation argues that the NHS needs £3billion each year for the next five years to upgrade crumbling buildings and replace outdated equipment.