Labour calls for watchdog to investigate new hospital programme amid delay fears

Labour is calling for the public spending watchdog to investigate the Government’s plans to deliver 40 new hospitals following reports of delays in the programme.

In a letter to the National Audit Office (NAO), Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting (pictured) outlined concerns “that rows between government ministers are causing delays” and that “unnecessary delays will result in significant waste of taxpayers’ money”.

The request follows a report in The Sunday Times that says NHS leaders are concerned some projects may not go ahead because of wrangling between No 10, the Treasury and the Department of Health.

The paper said that while 10 smaller schemes are due to start before September 2024, eight larger projects that should be completed no later than 2028 have yet to be given a start date.

The Government has committed to building 40 hospitals across the country by 2030.

It has committed £3.7 billion for the project, but last month in the House of Lords, speaking during a debate on procurement legislation, Lord Stevens of Birmingham, the former NHS England chief executive, said that figure “does not buy you 40 hospitals” and described “a need to get on with it”.

In a letter to the NAO, Mr Streeting outlined the need for improved hospital facilities and said: “It is therefore concerning that rows between government ministers are causing delays to the programme to deliver on the government’s commitment to build 40 new hospitals, the New Hospitals Programme.”

He went on: “NHS trusts are still waiting to be allocated funds to begin construction two and a half years on from the general election.

“This is despite many of these planned building works only being alterations or refurbishments, not in fact ‘new hospitals’.

“I am concerned that unnecessary delays will result in significant waste of taxpayers’ money, given the increase in prices for construction materials in the past year.”

And he urged the NAO to “now launch an investigation into this programme, to examine what is causing the delays in delivery and the extent to which taxpayers’ money is being wasted”.

Chief executive of the NHS Confederation, Matthew Taylor, said: “The government’s hospital building programme is in danger of being the dog that never barks.

“Years on from the announcement of 40 new hospitals, barely any have moved forward and we are still left with many run-down buildings that are costly to maintain.

“The lack of new and upgraded hospital buildings is also holding back efforts to eat into lengthening waiting lists. The government launched these flagship new builds with much fanfare but NHS leaders are becoming increasingly frustrated that the money isn’t following through. The fear now is that some of these may never see the light of day.”

The PA news agency has approached the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.

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