Almost casually, and with no real coverage in the mainstream national news media, the Labour Party has abandoned its previous reluctance to commit to spending, and its caution on promising new hospital projects – and committed to delivering the new hospital projects notoriously promised by Boris Johnson.

A patchily-covered series of statements targeted at areas where new hospitals are planned has been followed up by a new paragraph in Labour’s 2024 Manifesto which states:

“It is also clear that NHS estates are in a state of disrepair after years of neglect. Labour is therefore committed to delivering the New Hospitals Programme.”

Like so many other Boris Johnson statements and promises, the pledge in 2019 that the Tories would build “40 new hospitals” has proved to be worthless. Instead the Johnson government set up the New Hospitals Programme (NHP).

By July 2021, Natalie Forrest, leader of the NHP, admitted that the ‘brakes had come on’ for some of the Pathfinder projects, most notably Princess Alexandra, where a ceiling collapsed recently on an ICU patient.

Last August a rather weak National Audit Office report concluded that there was no chance of fulfilling the pledge to build 40 new hospitals, and that at best 32 might be built by 2030, with a further eight completed later.

In November, the all-party Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published a much more stinging report, stating that it had no confidence that Government would deliver the new hospitals it promised, and expressing extreme concern at the NHP’s lack of progress.

Last month the Princess Alexandra Trust admitted there was little chance of completing a new building by 2030: they have not even been able to buy a site to put it on. This followed Barts Health admitting the Whipps Cross rebuild will not be done before 2030.

In fact none of the major new schemes even has a completed business case, let alone a hope of starting work soon.

None of these harsh facts deterred Rishi Sunak from telling BBC Breakfast that “the majority” of the hospitals planned for construction have already received planning permission and that “spades were in the ground”.

Both Lib Dems and Labour were quick to call out this spectacular lie.

But Labour has now gone further, and discarded its previous cautious position, announcing that they will take over and complete the stalled programme if elected.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told the Evening Standard: “We are committed to delivering the New Hospitals Programme, including The Hillingdon Hospital, St Mary’s Hospital, Whipps Cross University Hospital and Charing Cross Hospital.”

In total six large-scale London schemes are among the 40, many of which, after the recent wave of inflation, are also closer to £1 billion on cost than £400m.

The Manifesto promise to deliver the NHP is a major change of tack from Labour’s mission statement on the NHS a year ago, which declared:

“We know we can’t go on with a crumbling NHS estate, but a responsible Government doesn’t promise an imaginary ’40 new hospitals’ that they will never deliver, either.

“So as a first step, before we commit to any more money, we’d make an assessment of all NHS capital projects to make sure money is getting allocated efficiently, that we are eliminating waste, and that we are prioritising the projects that will get the patients the care they deserve faster.”

Local news outlets in Harlow and Watford, Milton Keynes, Kettering, Berkshire and Basingstoke have already reported Labour’s assurances that local hospital schemes will go ahead, although it seems the new message has not been picked up in other areas where major hospital projects were included in the original 40, such as Leeds, Leicester, Lancashire, Nottingham, Devon and Somerset.

The Health Service Journal has yet to pick up the change as this is written (June 13). However the King’s Fund and Health Foundation have both responded, positively, to the shift of policy, while the Daily Express was predictably exasperated, headlining on Wes Streeting’s failure to remember all of the London hospitals Labour is now committed to building.

The i newspaper was one of few other national outlets to publicise the announcement and devote a long read article to it, curiously headlining that the new policy meant that a Labour victory “could be final nail in coffin for Johnson’s ‘40 hospitals’ pledge” – while in fact it could be the only way any of the paralysed schemes are implemented.

ITV regional news also picked up on the story, via the decision on Kettering Hospital, while national TV news pundits have ignored it completely.

The implications of this shift of policy could be very considerable, arousing fresh hopes among over 120 trusts which drew up ambitious plans in response to the Johnson government’s invitation to bid to be one of 8 additional funded projects, to make it 48 new hospitals.

Many of these projects, too were costed at close to, or in some cases well above £1 billion each. Bedfordshire Hospitals FT alone now estimates it needs £2.5 billion to rebuild and repair Bedford and Luton Hospitals.

Tony Blair’s Labour government’s investment programme in new hospitals was infamously financed through the Private Finance Initiative, with resulting inflated costs (£11 billion worth of hospitals set to cost up to £80bn over 25-30 years). We have yet to hear how Labour will tackle the problem of financing the new hospitals, and whether they have any plans to address the soaring £11.6 billion NHS bill for backlog maintenance.


Dear Reader,

If you like our content please support our campaigning journalism to protect health care for all. 

Our goal is to inform people, hold our politicians to account and help to build change through evidence based ideas.

Everyone should have access to comprehensive healthcare, but our NHS needs support. You can help us to continue to counter bad policy, battle neglect of the NHS and correct dangerous mis-infomation.

Supporters of the NHS are crucial in sustaining our health service and with your help we will be able to engage more people in securing its future.

Please donate to help support our campaigning NHS research and  journalism.                              


Comments are closed.