The health secretary has insisted the government will meet its manifesto commitment to build 40 new hospitals in England by 2030 – despite having to add five new sites to the programme over safety fears.
Steve Barclay said the addition of the unsafe hospitals meant that seven of the original sites may not have work completed by the end of the decade.
He said that while work will start on these schemes over the next two years, “they will be part of a rolling programme where not all work will be completed by 2030”.
“This is a reflection of the disruption that two years of the COVID pandemic has caused as well as the pressure from construction inflation,” he said.
Instead, five new sites – Airedale General in Keighley, Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, Hinchingbrooke near Huntingdon, Leighton Hospital in Cheshire and Frimley Park in Surrey – would be added to the programme as a priority.
The five hospitals are deemed unsafe owing to the use of Raac, reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, which he said meant they were “not safe to operate beyond 2030”.
Two other hospitals, West Suffolk hospital and the James Paget hospital, are already scheduled for a rebuild because of Raac, he said.
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The health secretary told MPs: “We now know that Raac has a limited lifespan, with difficult and dangerous consequences for the people who rely on or work in those hospitals.
“Seven hospitals in England have been constructed either wholly or in major part with Raac. And an independent assessment shows they are not safe to operate beyond 2030.”
However, despite the addition of five new projects, Mr Barclay said “the commitment to completion by 2030 applies to the 40 schemes set out today – which meets our manifesto commitment to build 40 hospitals by 2030”.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats immediately criticised the announcement, with the latter calling the 2030 target “pie in the sky”.
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The pledge to build 40 new hospitals was a key plank of Boris Johnson’s 2019 election manifesto, but it has been beset with problems from the start.
The government admitted that only two hospitals have been completed, while five are in construction.
It claims that by the end of next year, more than 20 will be under way or complete.
Questions have also been raised over the funding of the programme, which Mr Barclay said would be “fully funded” and backed by £20bn investment in hospital infrastructure.
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However, that figure is significantly less that one estimate which puts the cost at £35bn.
A Sky News investigation in August revealed the venture was under acute pressure and that 80% of the new hospitals promised by the Conservatives in 2019 either did not have a completion date or were unlikely to be finished by the next general election, while deadlines for some of the hospitals have slipped.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting called on the government to “come clean” and admit that all new 40 hospitals would not be built by the end of the decade.
Labour called on the health secretary to “come clean” and admit that all 40 new hospitals would not be built by 2030.
“I genuinely expected that the secretary of state might come to the House today and be upfront about the fact that whatever promises the former prime minister made in 2019… the pledge to build 40 new hospitals by 2030 is simply not going to happen,” he said.
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“It was a straightforward commitment. 40 new hospitals. Except since then we have become familiar with the idea that they weren’t new and astonishingly they weren’t even new hospitals.”
Mr Streeting added: “People in these places were made a promise, and the secretary of state has the audacity to repeat that promise today when surely he knows that even if the will is there and even if as he says the money is there, practically I simply do not see or understand how he will be able to deliver 40 new hospitals by 2030.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Daisy Cooper said the update was “shaping up to be a disgraceful broken promise to communities across the country”.
“There is still no sign of these new hospitals and today confirms for some, there will be no spades in the ground for years to come. What a farce.”