Health leaders seek certainty on future of government’s new hospital programme

The government’s hospital building programme is “on shaky ground”, with two in three NHS trust leaders saying delays were affecting their ability to deliver safe patient care.

An NHS Providers survey found that half of trust leaders doubt they have been given enough funding for their improvement schemes, while two in five said their projects were behind schedule.


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Nearly all trusts said their schemes would improve patient care and productivity

Of those behind schedule jobs, all reported cost implications because of the delay, with inflation-busting cost rises seen across several construction materials.

It comes after confirmation earlier this week that the National Audit Office will conduct a value for money review into the programme later this year.

The promise to build 40 new hospitals was a major plank of the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto, which swept Boris Johnson into 10 Downing Street with a significant majority.

But the programme has been beset by delays and uncertainty around funding, as well as criticism about the nature of the 40 projects – with many revealed to be merely extensions or refurbishments.

With a change in leadership at the Department for Health and Social Care – Sajid Javid having resigned and been replaced with Steve Barclay – and the prime minister set to stand down in the coming months, the future of the programme is unclear.

Survey findings

  • 39% of hospitals have their completion date behind schedule and of these, 46% have had their timescales publicly reset
  • 96% of trusts strongly agreed or agreed that, if appropriately funded, their scheme would improve patient-centred care and experience, improve clinical outcomes, and enable them to increase productivity
  • 76% agreed or strongly agreed that their project would improve their capacity to meet rising demand and tackle backlogs
  • 77% strongly agreed that the government should confirm the funding envelope for the New Hospital Programme beyond the current spending review period (2022/23-2024/25) 

Responding to the NHS Providers survey, one trust leader said that operating “21st century healthcare from 19th century buildings” was “increasingly unsustainable”.

Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS providers, said the hospital building programme was “on shaky ground” as a result of delays and funding concerns.

“Trust leaders are deeply frustrated that the benefits they expected to be able to deliver for patients and their communities are increasingly in doubt, in some cases getting further out of reach with every day that goes by,” she said.

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Cordery added that the programme was a “fantastic opportunity” to rebuild the NHS estate and that failure to deliver would be a “missed opportunity which will cost the NHS dear for years to come”.

The new hospital programme has been given a “red” ranking by the Infrastructure Projects Authority, the government’s centre of expertise for infrastructure projects, meaning it “appears to be unachievable”.