The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said in a report today (17 November) that a ‘lack of progress’ on the New Hospital Programme (NHP) means it is clear that 40 new hospitals, as promised in 2019’s Conservative manifesto, will not be delivered.
The report said it was also ‘highly unlikely’ the government would meet a smaller target of 32 new hospitals – announced in July in the wake of a National Audit Office report into rising costs on the programme.
In May, the government added five new hospitals to the 2030 programme following safety fears over hospitals built using reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC). The list had previously included only two RAAC hospitals.
The PAC report said the decision not to include all seven of the affected hospitals in 2020 amounted to a costly reset, ‘delaying eight other hospitals, which DHSC now will not complete until after 2030, a major disappointment for people living in those communities’.
That was due to ‘costly mitigation measures’ required to keep services running until new structures can be built, MPs argued.
Commenting on the findings, committee chair Meg Hillier said that, while she had ‘no confidence’ the 40 new hospitals target would be met, there was still hope the government could get the NHP back on track – particularly through prioritisation of those hospitals built with RAAC.
‘The physical edifice that is the NHS is quite literally crumbling before our eyes,’ she said. ‘It can be laid squarely at the door of the decision to raid budgets reserved for maintenance and investment in favour of day-to-day spending.’
She continued: ‘Quite aside from the fact that the planned new hospitals risk being too small for future purposes, funding does not even appear to be in place to construct them in time, all underpinned by failures of basic record-keeping and fresh and urgent concerns over RAAC.’
The committee’s report comes after the RIBA called on the government earlier this year to do ‘much more’ to address concerns around building safety across NHS England’s crumbling estate after the government announced £20 billion in funding for the NHP.
RIBA president at the time, Simon Allford, who was responding to a £20 billion funding package for up to 45 hospital projects, said the scale of the problem meant more was needed from central government to fix facilities.
‘All buildings must of course prioritise safety as a basic tenet of design,’ he told the AJ in June. ‘RIBA recognises the responsibilities of the architect and continues to promote high safety standards.’
‘Much more is needed to address the scale of the issue across the NHS estate,’ he added. ‘The government must not wait until buildings are in disrepair to take action.’
The government has previously said that modular design would be used to deliver the seven prioritised hospitals under a Hospital 2.0 approach.
The five hospitals set for rebuilding are Airedale in West Yorkshire, Queen Elizabeth King’s Lynn in Norfolk, Hinchingbrooke in Cambridgeshire, Mid Cheshire Leighton in Cheshire and Frimley Park in Surrey.
Upgrades are already due at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds and James Paget Hospital in Norfolk as part of the rebuilding programme.
In January, £50 million was committed to purchasing ‘temporary buildings’ for NHS England trusts dealing with overcrowding.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to delivering 40 new hospitals by 2030, expected to be backed by over £20 billion of investment and additional clinical projects.
‘Three hospitals open to patients, another two opening shortly, and a further sixteen in construction or have early construction activity underway to prepare sites. Our innovative ‘Hospital 2.0’ approach will enable us to build high quality hospitals more quickly.
‘With better value for money for the taxpayer, new hospitals will feature single bedrooms which can reduce length of stay, improve infection control and boost use of bed capacity.’