New Hospitals Could be ‘White Elephants’

Billions of pounds are being spent on hospitals for the NHS that will not be suitable for the planned new patterns of care. A new report claims that the NHS could be left with “white elephants” — huge hospitals that will take 30 years to pay off, when the future of healthcare lies with smaller, more flexible units closer to where people live. The report says that awareness of this in the Department of Health has brought capital investment of all kinds to a shuddering halt just as new policies are changing the ways in which care will be delivered

Opportunities for investing in appropriate new buildings are likely to be missed as the system lurches into the stop part of a “stop-go” cycle.

The report, whose lead author is Professor Nick Bosanquet, of Imperial College, is published by Reform, the market-oriented think-tank that was the first to predict the NHS funding crisis and the need to cut jobs.

Reform backs the Government’s health initiatives, such as payment by results, patient choice and the White Paper Our Health, Our Care, Our Say, which seeks to move more care away from hospitals and into primary care, but its report, Investment in the NHS, gives warning that the NHS has spent the past decade building over-large and expensive units and now faces a freeze on the kind of investment that can lead to service improvement.

The evidence that investment has stopped comes from the NHS accounts, which show that there was an underspend of £1.2 billion last year on the capital account, double the level of 2004-05. The report predicts that the current financial year will also show a large underspend.

The first large NHS acute hospital to have a self-contained single room for every patient is being planned, with managers predicting a reduced incidence of MRSA, speedier recoveries and cost savings. Pembury Hospital, in Kent, will be demolished and rebuilt for £330 million.