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MPs have no confidence in New Hospitals Programme

MPs have no confidence in New Hospitals Programme
By Jess Hacker
17 November 2023

A number of MPs have said they have no confidence that the Government will deliver on the promised made under the New Hospitals Programme (NHP).

Since the Government committed in 2020 to building 40 new hospitals by 2030, very little has happened from the patients perspective, they said.

The Government is ‘highly unlikely’ to build even 32 hospitals by 2030, after it dropped its commitment to build 40 in May of this year.

The concerns come as part of the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) highly critical report into progress on the programme, published today (17 November).

Members of the PAC have now called on the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to urgently examine how the NHP can be made to deliver tangible results.

MPs also shared concerns that future hospitals are being designed to be too small. Current plans assume increasing demand  for care can be tackled by high levels of bed occupancy (95%), large reductions in the average length of a hospital stay, and a recurring 1.8% per annum transfer of patient care out of hospitals.

But the PAC branded these assumptions as unrealistic given the NHS’ high levels of bed occupancy and high levels of strain on primary and social care.

These assumptions are more likely to increase the cost of new hospitals and require a further reset of the NHP, MPs said.

The PAC also raised concerns over the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in hospital buildings.

By early 2023, the DHSC had identified 41 NHS buildings with RAAC, however if rebuilding seven hospitals constructed entirely out of RAAC is not sped up, some may have to lose before replacements are ready, they warned.

The DHSC must revise its plans to manage the RAAC crisis, including by considering whether the commitment to eradicate RAAC from the NHS should be brought forward from 2035, they recommended.

PAC chair and MP Dame Meg Hillier said: ‘The physical edifice that is the NHS is quite literally crumbling before our eyes. There was nothing inevitable about this heart-breaking crisis. 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. The sharp distinction between capital and revenue budgets exists for a reason. We are now seeing the consequences of this short-termism visited on patients and services.’

She added: ‘Though we have no confidence that the NHP will deliver on its current promises, we hope that the recommendations in our report help to get it back on track – for the sake of all citizens who desperately need the NHS to get well soon.’

Responding to the report, NHS Providers’ director of policy and strategy Miriam Deakin said: ‘Even for those trusts in the NHP, the picture is still uncertain. They want to know that they will be able to afford to build facilities of the size and quality that patients, staff and communities have been promised. The next government Spending Review will be vital in determining the funding available for trusts in the NHP.’

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