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New hospitals programme beset by ‘delay and indecision’ – health leaders

In 2020, the Government announced its New Hospital Programme which pledged to build 40 hospitals by 2030 (Alamy/PA)
In 2020, the Government announced its New Hospital Programme which pledged to build 40 hospitals by 2030 (Alamy/PA)

The Government’s flagship programme to build 40 new hospitals has been marred by “delay, indecision and soaring costs”, health leaders have warned.

NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said hospitals are footing the bill for delays to the project.

In 2020, the Government announced its New Hospital Programme (NHP) which pledged to build 40 hospitals by 2030.

In May 2023, ministers committed to prioritising rebuilding facilities that included reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac).

As a result, ministers said that some of the projects – which can include anything from a whole new hospital to a major refurbishment and alteration of an existing hospital – will now be completed after the expected completion date of 2030.

But NHS Providers said that millions of pounds every month are being “drained from scarce NHS funds” due to delays, with some forking out more than £1 million a month.

One hospital boss involved in the initiative told NHS Providers: “Further delays are only going to introduce further patient harm, disappoint our colleagues and increase costs to the taxpayer.”

Another said: “Our teams are coming in, day in day out, to infrastructure that is not fit for purpose. We don’t have the facilities to treat patients in the way that any of us aspire to.”

One leader told NHS Providers: “In the past three years, we’ve seen a 25% increase in costs. That’s £200 million more today than it would have cost three years ago.”

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “Trust leaders and local people want to see the promise of ‘new hospitals’ honoured. They know these projects can transform services for patients and staff.

“While there has been some welcome progress, the bigger picture is one of delay, indecision and soaring costs which the NHS, taxpayers and patients can ill afford. Trusts urgently need clarity from the Government on funding and next steps.

“But this is one part of a much bigger problem about the scale of underinvestment across the NHS estate. More than 100 trusts applied to join the NHP and the NHS repairs bill is now at a staggering £11.6 billion, much of it high risk. We cannot afford to let this problem get worse.

“As we head towards a general election, trust leaders want a cast-iron commitment from all political parties to an NHS infrastructure programme that meets the needs of hospitals, mental health, community and ambulance services.”

Patricia Marquis, executive director for the Royal College of Nursing in England, said: “Nursing staff report risks to their own safety and their patients from working in outdated buildings.

“They want to deliver care in safe and modern facilities, not be put under strain by a lack of capacity or crumbling care settings.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We continue to make good progress across our New Hospital Programme, with six new hospitals already open to patients. Two more are expected to open by the end of the financial year, and another 18 are under construction or have work ongoing to prepare the sites.

“On top of the expected £20 billion for the New Hospital Programme, the Government has invested £4.2 billion this financial year to upgrade and modernise NHS buildings so staff have the facilities needed to provide world-class care for patients.

“We have also provided a further £1.7 billion for over 70 hospital upgrades across England, alongside a range of nationally funded infrastructure improvements in mental health, urgent and emergency care and diagnostic capacity. We are working with each individual scheme on opportunities to progress as quickly as possible.”