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Patient safety at risk as Tories’ ‘40 hospitals’ project mired in delays

Campaigners slam pledge as a ‘scam’ while Trust leaders say costs have spiralled by 25 per cent

THE Tories’ faltering pledge to build more hospitals is a “scam” designed to make it look as if the government is committed to investing in health services, campaigners charged today.

The government promised 40 new hospitals in England by 2030 under Boris Johnson’s leadership in 2019.

The scheme sparked criticism after it transpired that not all of them would be new but included refurbishments and extensions. 

Five years later, NHS trust leaders are voicing their frustration as the New Hospital Programme (NHP) continues to be mired in delays.

They say that patients are increasingly at risk in crumbling buildings, with out-of-date equipment that is hampering care.

Some trusts are being forced to cough up £1 million a month from already stretched budgets, to cover on-hold building projects and the bill for having to patch up dilapidated sites, says NHS Providers, a membership organisation for NHS trusts.

One trust leader anonymously told the organisation that more delays “are only going to introduce further patient harm, disappoint our colleagues and increase costs to the taxpayer.”

Another said that they had seen a 25 per cent increase in costs, amounting to £200 million more than three years ago. 

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the issue is “one part of a much bigger problem about the scale of under-investment across the NHS estate. 

“More than 100 trusts applied to join the NHP and the NHS repairs bill is now at a staggering £11.6bn, much of it high risk. We cannot afford to let this problem get worse.”

According to the health department, there are 42 hospitals in England containing reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac), a dangerous and unstable material that led to the closure of 24 crumbling schools last year. 

Seven hospitals are constructed entirely from Raac. A parliamentary committee warned in November that if construction does not speed up, some hospitals may be forced to close altogether.

Co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public Dr John Puntis said that “inadequate resourcing, organisational chaos and foot-dragging should have made it clear to even the most optimistic of trusts that this programme was to all intents and purposes a scam designed to make it look as if government was committed to investing in health services.” 

The retired consultant paediatrician added that the deteriorating and out-of-date NHS estate emphasises the “hollow and misleading” claims by the Tories of “record funding” which the party alleges will reach £165bn a year by the end of this parliament. 

The public accounts committee warned in November that the government has not even allocated enough funding to ensure all the hospitals in the NHP will be built.

Last month, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said that Labour will not provide the NHS with extra funding without “major surgery,” including greater reliance on the private sector. 

Johnbosco Nwogbo, from public ownership campaign organisation We Own It, accused political parties of “currently skirting by without saying anything meaningful about whether they would do any better on investment than this government has done.”

“We’ve just lived through 14 of the worst years of underfunding, understaffing and privatisation in the entire history of our NHS. It is simply no surprise that patients are being put at risk. 

“Doctors and nurses are working in a system with 150,000 staff vacancies, in crumbling hospitals that are infested with rodents and leak sewage when it rains.” 

Executive director for Royal College of Nursing England Patricia Marquis said nursing staff and patients are “tired of the government’s excuses. 

“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.  

“Political parties must realise that investment in both nursing staff and the NHS are the electorate’s top priority.”

UNISON head of health Helga Pile said: “This sorry state of affairs has put patients and staff at risk, closed wards, delayed treatment, and worsened the crisis across the health service.

“Promises of a new hospitals programme were always more political spin than substance.

“Ministers are failing to plan and finance critical upgrades to buildings across the NHS, leaving trusts with huge bills and hospitals in no fit state to deliver modern healthcare.”

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.”

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