‘Highly unlikely’ Boris Johnson’s 40 new hospitals pledge will be met, MPs warn

It is “highly unlikely” that the government will deliver on its pledge to build 40 new hospitals, a cross-party group of MPs has warned.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said it has “extreme concerns” about the “lack of progress” the government’s New Hospitals Programme (NHP) has made.

Even though the target number of new hospitals was reduced to 32 in July, the committee said hitting the new figure is still “highly unlikely”.

The hospitals promise was a central part of the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto.

In September 2019, Johnson said the government was embarking on “the biggest hospital building programme in a generation”.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, he said spending on the NHS was “absolutely central” to his vision of a “united society and a united country”.

He insisted the plans, drawn up by then-health secretary Matt Hancock, would see the government spend £13 billion on  “new” hospitals.

At the time, he claimed it was “the largest sum that has ever been invested in the NHS”.

“We’re launching the biggest hospital building programme in a generation. You will have seen that on the steps of Downing Street I announced 20 new hospital upgrades.

“We’re now following that up with 40 new hospitals we’re going to be doing across the country. It’s the biggest programme of hospital building in a generation.”

Earlier this year, as had been widely noted at the time, then-health secretary Steve Barclay admitted some facilities included in the government’s commitment to provide 40 new hospitals by 2030 will not be built from scratch.

The Conservative Party’s repeated promise to build 40 new hospitals came under repeated scrutiny on the 2019 election trail amid questions about what qualified as a hospital.

Asked to clarify the pledge, he told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “Some of the schemes include, for example, a hospital being gutted and fully refurbished – if you look at Charing Cross for example, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.

“And we’ll be starting work to decant some of the facilities and then refurbish, so there’s a range of things”.

In a bid to build the revised target of 32 hospitals, ministers implemented a “new standard hospital design”, standardised buildings that could then be constructed around the country to cut down on costs and resources.

Dame Meg Hillier, the chair of the PAC, said of her new report: “The physical edifice that is the NHS is quite literally crumbling before our eyes. There was nothing inevitable about this heartbreaking crisis.”

She added that blame 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”.

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