The Government is expected to miss its target of building 40 new hospitals by 2030, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
Significant delays to starting construction and the DHSC having less funding than it assessed it needed will mean that only 32 will be built in time.
The NAO said the Government has not achieved good value for money, having already spent £1.1 billion on the New Hospitals Project (NHP) with delivery to date ‘slower than expected’.
When the Government announced the target in October 2020, it provided information on the types of improvements for 32 hospitals, with details on the remaining eight to be decided later.
But the NAO’s analysis of these 32 projects found that only 11 will count as ‘whole new hospitals’, due to the DHSC’s ‘broad definition’ including major new buildings or refurbishments at existing sites.
The NAO concluded that the scheme had been announced ‘in the absence of key decisions’ about the NHP’s funding and approach.
Construction on the second cohort of hospitals was supposed to begin between 2022 and 2024, but no building work had started as of May 2023 due to ‘delays in approving individual business cases’, the NAO said.
And after the DHSC received less funding that it needed for the NHP’s first four years, it decided to leave most construction for the final six years and begin work on its smaller schemes.
But until 2023, the DHSC was unable to agree with the Major Projects Review Group about the scale of capital funding it would need for those final six years.
The NAO said: ‘It is unsurprising that when government finally took decisions, it required major changes to NHP’s scope. Some of the changes will solve pressing problems for DHSC and NHS England, such as the inclusion of all seven entirely reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) hospitals within NHP.
‘But some schemes publicly promised in 2020 now face substantial delays and will not be completed by 2030, inevitably with implications for patients and clinicians.’
Commenting on the report, chief executive of the NHS Confederation Matthew Taylor said: ‘Members will be concerned by the delays to many parts of the New Hospitals Programme, as this report from the National Audit Office reveals.
‘Especially as some trusts are having to find additional money to tackle ongoing maintenance issues such as new roofs, when they were led to believe they would be moving to a new site or given funds to build something new as part of this programme. This is adding more pressure on finance departments whose budgets are already stretched to the limit.’
Head of the NAO Gareth Davies said: ‘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. These include strengthening the business case process to improve confidence on affordability and delivery dates, and improving transparency for key decisions.’