There is meagre progress in the Johnson government’s repeated promise to build first 40, and more recently 48 “new hospitals” and they will not be delivered before the next election according to the lastest estimates.

Last year the New Hospitals Programme called for plans for the six new “large hospital builds” (which ministers had claimed in 2019 had received funding to go ahead at once) to be resubmitted, each also including a plan with costs cut back to £400m – questioning the viability of the schemes.

Now research by the HSJ has revealed that only one of the six, Epsom & St Helier in SW London, stands any chance of being completed by the original target date of 2025. Three others – Barts (Whipps Cross Hospital), Leeds, and West Hertfordshire – are expecting to complete some time in 2026 or later, while schemes in Leicester and Harlow (Princess Alexandra) now lack even a target date.

Seven other schemes from the repeatedly revised and expanded list (which includes numerous extensions and refurbishments, passed off as “new hospitals” in accordance with NHS England’s PR “playbook”) are expected to be finished by 2025. 

One of these is Liverpool University Hospital – the still incomplete PFI hospital left in the lurch by the collapse of Carillion in 2018. Others expected before 2025 are in Salford, Bath, Cumbria, Northumberland Tyne and Wear FT, Cambridge, Nottingham and North Cumbria Integrated Care FT.

But with only £3.7bn allocated to new hospital projects up to 2025, and other trusts also invited to bid to be one of eight further projects, it’s obvious that there is nowhere near enough cash available to fulfil the government’s promises. Bids already in for the 8 additional schemes add up to billions, with the plan for a £370m rebuild of Banbury’s Horton General Hospital being one of very few to come in below £400m.

It will come as no surprise that ministers are willing to distort, deny or challenge the facts rather than face up to the need for far more funding. On December 1 Boris Johnson stood up in parliament and denied that the New Hospitals Programme had been “red-rated” by the Infrastructure Projects Authority, despite the Department of Health & Social Care having admitted as much to the HSJ.

An “amber/red” rating means the successful delivery of the project is “in doubt:” a “red” rating means it “appears to be unachievable. 

The red rating, downgraded from an amber in March was revealed by the HSJ in mid November, denied in PMQs on December 1 – and mysteriously revised back up again by the IPA just before Christmas – even though two trusts, West Hertfordshire and Princess Alexandra had been forced by lack of funding to pause “external advisory support. 

The amber rating is based on the assumption that if the issues that were obstructing progress could be “addressed promptly,” they “should not present a cost/schedule overrun.

However the lack of working capital to finance the schemes is a fundamental obstacle that has been in place since the ‘fake forty’ list was first trumpeted in 2019 as part of Johnson’s bid to win electoral support.

The IPA rating might have changed under pressure from the top, but the problems are not easily wished away. It would be a foolhardy gambler would bet on the completion of many, if any of the schemes before the next election.

more from the Lowdown:

Johnson’s plan to build 40 hospitals yet to stand-up

Truth behind Johnson’s “40 new hospitals” claim

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