The government’s New Hospital Programme does not look set deliver on its targets, putting the future of some healthcare at risk, a damning report has found.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee says it has no confidence that the UK government will deliver the 32 new hospitals promised by 2030.
And its report warns that some hospitals may have to close before their replacements are ready, due to the crisis over unsafe reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in buildings.
The committee accuses the government of raiding capital budgets for day-to-day spending without considering the long-term consequences for patient care, adding that the new-build programme is suffering as a result.
It also criticises the time taken over a new standardised design, known as Hospital 2.0, which the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) wants to be used throughout the programme. It warns that the time spent finalising the design is eroding its supposed cost and delivery schedule benefits.
The planned footprint in the 2.0 design may also be too small for future hospital needs, the committee notes, repeating a warning from the National Audit Office (NAO) in July.
And the report also says that the plan to use 2.0 for the seven hospitals that need to be rebuilt due to the presence of RAAC is “questionable” given the urgency of the work needed on them.
“The seriousness of the RAAC issue and the need to complete these rebuilds by 2030 creates a strong case for procuring and constructing the seven hospitals under traditional methods, even if that would mean not complying fully with the as yet incomplete Hospital 2.0 design,” it says.
In May, it was announced that five hospitals would be rebuilt under the programme due to their risk of collapse as a result of the presence of RAAC. This was in addition to two RAAC-containing facilities already on the programme list. Subsequently, a total of 22 NHS bodies reported that their buildings contained the lifetime-expired material.
Meg Hillier, who chairs the committee, said: “The physical edifice that is the NHS is quite literally crumbling before our eyes.
“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 DHSC has been approached for comment.
The Public Accounts Committee also notes a lack of transparency in the selection of the 32 hospitals for the programme – an issue similar to that which it had identified in an earlier investigation of Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ (DLUHC) principles for awarding levelling-up funding grants to poorly served areas of the country.
A separate report released today by the NAO finds that DLUHC’s levelling-up projects are behind where they were expected to be and are likely to miss their targets.
Through the Towns Fund and Levelling-Up Fund, the department has distributed grants to “shovel ready” projects. But the report finds that, as of March 2023, 50 per cent of main construction contracts for Levelling-Up Fund Round 1 projects that were due to be delivered by March 2024 remain unsigned.
This is also the case for 85 per cent of Levelling-Up Fund Round 2 projects, which are due to be delivered by March 2025.
The NAO does note, however, that the department has recently improved its oversight of the funds.
A DLUHC spokesperson said the figures in the report were out of date. They added: “Major regeneration projects take time to deliver, but a number of projects have completed.
“This includes the redevelopment of the Farnworth Leisure Centre in Bolton, delivered as part of a £13.3m commitment to Bolton Council through the Future High Streets Fund.
“Thanks to the Towns Fund also, the Ingenium Centre in Darlington and a digi-tech factory in Norwich have both opened their doors.”