Last week, the government announced the next wave of hospitals to be included in England’s New Hospitals Programme (NHP), the largest capital infrastructure project for NHS estates in recent times and the biggest access to significant capital that Trusts have been able to get in a long time. But it isn’t all roses: many of the schemes that already have NHP approval have been bumped down the list in favour of a number of RAAC schemes (‘reinforced aerated autoclaved concrete’… we know…) which have taken priority. On top of that, the overall budget for the NHP seems to have been reduced. Capital allocations for each of the sites announced last week aren’t yet public, and will only be once business cases have been approved.
The announcement is good news for a wave of sites that desperately need an influx of cash to improve crumbling estates and get on with the business of delivering excellent care. As one site used to put it, “we have more scaffolding poles holding up the building than we do members of staff working in it.” Refurbishing these sites in safe, sustainable and future-thinking ways is a win for the patients and public who’ll use them.
There are consequences of reprioritising any list. Now communities in Hampshire, Nottingham, North Devon, Preston, Lancaster, Sussex and others find their promised new hospitals a little further away than perhaps they hoped. The Secretary of State could easily have replaced those schemes, rather than delayed them, so it’s a positive that they are on the list. But delaying to the 2030s leaves the projects as hostages to electoral fortune. Will the promises of these new facilities be able to survive two general elections and multiple spending reviews?
In very interesting timing, on Tuesday Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, spoke outside an ambulance station in Essex to set out Labour’s vision for the NHS if they win the next general election. Accompanying this was the detail of the party’s third mission to ‘build an NHS for the future: that is there when people need it; with fewer lives lost to the biggest killers; in a fairer Britain, where everyone lives well for longer.’ Amongst the anecdotes and ideas was a commitment by the party, if they become the next government, to review capital spending on NHS infrastructure projects including the New Hospitals Programme.
All of this adds up to a lot of uncertainty for systems that have spent a lot of time, money and effort to develop meaningful plans for the future for their struggling services. And further delay means it’s even more important to keep engaged and communicating with the people impacted by the delay to those changes, which in turn costs further time, money and effort.
In a world of short-term budgets dependent on the whim of the government of the day, it can be difficult to see the woods for the trees when it comes to the argument for immediate investment for long-term gain, especially when it comes to estates – and prevention, too. Another blog post, anyone?
Blog by: Jonny Williams
Photo by: Pixabay