'Shocking and damning': Government on track to miss 2030 target to build 40 'new' hospitals

17 July 2023, 08:39

A critical report into the government's new hospitals pledge has been released
A critical report into the government's new hospitals pledge has been released. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

The Government looks set to miss its key pledge to build 40 new hospitals by 2030, a public spending watchdog has said.

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Works on the second tranche of facilities were yet to start by May and delays mean the target date won't be met, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

Hospital trusts were "deeply disappointed" at delays.

The works were first promised by Boris Johnson and were included in the 2019 Conservative manifesto.

A total of 32 hospitals are set to be built within the next seven years, the NAO found, using the government's definition of "new" - which controversially includes refurbishments of existing sites and not just brand new constructions.

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, admitted two months ago that up to eight hospitals may not be built within the next seven years because some existing ones are in danger of collapsing.

Read more: Desperate patients rip out teeth with bare hands and resort to glueing replacements in NHS dentist crisis

A school next to the NHS Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester being readied for the building of a new Emergency Department and Critical Care Unit as part of the NHP
A school next to the NHS Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester being readied for the building of a new Emergency Department and Critical Care Unit as part of the NHP. Picture: Alamy

Urgent repairs are needed on buildings built with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, which constructors stopped using in the 1980s.

Problems have also been found with modelling plans for new hospitals and a drive to keep costs down which could leave new facilities too small.

And staff shortages mean a design for a standardised hospital will be delayed until May 2024.

Read more: Five-day junior doctor strike will cost the NHS £125 million and could hit waiting list recovery, NHS says

In total, 32 hospitals that meet the government's definition are on course to be completed on time. These include 24 from the "New Hospital Programme" (NHP), three new mental health facilities and five projects added in May involving existing hospitals feared to be at risk of collapse.

Eight that were already under construction do not count because they were already being built, the NAO said.

It found the government has not got good value for money because the scheme had cost £1.1bn by March and progress is slower that expected.

Wes Streeting said the report was damning
Wes Streeting said the report was damning. Picture: Alamy

It has made a number of recommendations, including a suggestion that assumptions should be reconsidered to prevent new hospitals being too small.

The NAO's head Gareth Davies said: "The programme has innovative plans to standardise hospital construction, delivering efficiencies and quality improvements. However, by the definition the Government used in 2020, it will now deliver 32 rather than 40 new hospitals by 2030.

"Delivery so far has been slower than expected, both on individual schemes and in developing the Hospital 2.0 template, which has delayed programme funding decisions.

"There are some important lessons to be drawn for major programmes from the experience of the New Hospital Programme so far."

Steve Barclay has said some hospitals need to be repaired
Steve Barclay has said some hospitals need to be repaired. Picture: Alamy

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represent trusts, said: "Many trusts in the NHP (New Hospital Programme) are deeply disappointed that their building plans won't be delivered before 2030 and many more trusts were disappointed not to be offered funding at all."

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: "This shocking report could not be more damning of the failing new hospitals programme.

"The Conservatives have overpromised, under-delivered, and they've been found out. Meanwhile patients are being treated in outdated, crumbling hospitals."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "The NAO's report acknowledges that despite changes to the original programme, 40 new hospitals are still expected to be delivered by 2030 and praises the programme's innovative plans to standardise hospital construction, deliver efficiencies and improve quality.

"We remain firmly committed to delivering these hospitals, which are now expected to be backed by over £20 billion of investment, helping to cut waiting lists so people can get the treatment they need quicker.

"Three new hospitals have already opened and more will open this year so patients and staff can benefit from major new hospital buildings, equipped with the latest technology."

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