Controversy Over Government Hospital Spending Pledges

Peter Russell

September 30, 2019

As Conservatives gathered for their annual party conference, the Government pledged to spend billions of pounds on hospital projects in England.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) described the spending commitment as "the largest hospital building programme in a generation".

NHS Providers said the overall NHS budget needed to be increased to make up for a decade of underspending.

The Government said that the programme involved more than 40 hospital building projects. However, critics said that only six had been given an immediate go-ahead.

"What we're committing to is a programme of 40 new hospitals, starting with six," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a weekend visit to North Manchester General Hospital. "This is the moment for our country to invest in the NHS for the long-term. We have the funds to do it – we're going to make the funds available, because I think it's the number one priority of the British people."

Spending Pledges

The core of the plan involved a £2.7 billion investment for six new large hospitals to be built by 2025.

The six hospitals to be developed are:

  • Whipps Cross University Hospital in North East London

  • St Helier Hospital in South West London

  • Leeds General Hospital

  • Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow

  • Leicester General, Royal and Glenfield Hospitals

  • Watford General

The DHSC said that 21 schemes had been given the go-ahead with 'seed funding' to develop business cases for NHS projects that could be delivered between 2025 and 2030, subject to approval.

The Government said the latest investment was on top of the £33.9 billion a year it had promised to the NHS by 2023 to 2024. Also, it followed the recent commitment of £1.8 billion in capital funding for 20 hospital upgrades and other infrastructure projects for the NHS, as well as the announcement last week of £200 million to replace more than 300 diagnostic machines across England to aid earlier cancer diagnoses.

Asked on Sky News' Sophy Ridge programme on Sunday where the money for building projects would come from, Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary, said: "The rest of the money will come in the future."

Reaction

Jonathan Ashworth, the Shadow Health Secretary, commented: "Yet again, a Boris Johnson health announcement has quickly unravelled as spin. This isn’t 40 new hospitals, it is just reconfiguring six.

NHS Providers said that the NHS needed a multi-year capital settlement to help address "a decade of capital squeeze". Chris Hopson, its chief executive, said.

"The NHS has been starved of capital since 2010. There’s a £6 billion maintenance backlog, £3 billion of it safety critical. It’s not just these six hospitals who have crumbling, outdated, infrastructure - community and mental health trusts, ambulance services and other hospitals across the country have equally pressing needs."

Richard Murray, chief executive of The King's Fund, commented: "As well as shoring up buildings, urgent action is needed to shore up the NHS workforce. Severe staff shortages are the biggest challenge facing the health service, with nearly 100,000 vacancies in NHS trusts.

"If the government really wants to get the best value out of this new capital spending, it will need considering alongside a comprehensive plan to tackle staffing shortages in both the NHS and social care, future plans for public health spending, and investment in social care, to help keep people well for as long as possible and out of hospital when they don’t need to be there."

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair of the British Medical Association, said: "In times of such political uncertainty and with Brexit looming, it is important that any investment promised is delivered with a view not just of the immediate short-term but the long-term sustainability of the NHS that places patients at the core of its motivation."

Compulsory Vaccinations

Meanwhile, Matt Hancock, the Health and Social Care Secretary, said at the weekend that he was "looking very seriously" at compulsory childhood vaccinations in England.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Mr Hancock said: "There is a very strong argument for having compulsory vaccinations for children for when they go to school – because otherwise they are putting other children at risk."

Mr Hancock said he had been given legal advice on how the new policy could be implemented.

His comments followed official figures from NHS Digital which showed a fall in coverage for NHS routine childhood vaccinations.

Dr Peter English, public health medicine committee chair at the British Medical Association, said: "Childhood immunisation remains the most effective way to prevent a range of life-threatening illnesses and it is therefore extremely concerning to see a decrease in vaccination uptake given this is largely avoidable.

"There is a clear need to curb the damaging spread of false and misleading information on vaccinations by enforcing standards and placing legal obligations on social media corporations.

"More importantly still, the Government must implement an effective vaccination strategy that addresses the wide-ranging factors behind this decline, and deliver adequate resources to ensure targeted, comprehensive vaccination programmes that reach those most in need."

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