Health secretary Steve Barclay has been urged to “come clean” and admit the Tory promise to build 40 new hospitals in England by 2030 can no longer be met.
Mr Barclay has insisted Rishi Sunak’s government remains committed to Boris Johnson’s 2019 manifesto pledge – but revealed that there has been a change to which hospitals are included in the programme.
The health secretary also conceded that building work may not be completed by that time for several of the original group of 40 hospitals.
Instead, some hospitals at risk of collapse and in need of an urgent upgrade will now be added to the programme, amid concern about the use of Raac (reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete) materials.
It means some of the original hospitals earmarked under the programme will see work commence – but Mr Barclay acknowledged “not all work” on those will be completed by 2030.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said Mr Barclay should “come clean” and be “upfront about the fact that whatever promises the former prime minister … the pledge to build 40 new hospitals by 2030 is simply not going to happen”.
Accusing the Tories of “overpromising and underdelivering”, Mr Streeting many of the re-building projects at existing hospitals “weren’t even new hospitals”.
The Labour frontbencher accused Mr Barclay of having “the audacity to repeat that promise today when surely he knows that even if the will is there and even, if as he says, the money is there, practically I simply do not see or understand how he will be able to deliver 40 new hospitals by 2030”.
Mr Barclay told MPs the government was committed to eradicating Raac from the NHS estate – with seven hospitals either constructed entirely or in major part with the materials that are not “safe to operate beyond 2030”.
He said two of the schemes, West Suffolk Hospital and the James Paget hospital in Great Yarmouth, were already part of the new hospitals programme, but that the five others have now been added.
They are Airedale General in Keighley, Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, Hinchingbrooke near Huntingdon, Leighton Hospital in Cheshire, and Frimley Park in Surrey.
The health secretary said the government had committed to invest £3.7bn by the financial year 24/25, but now expects the total investment to now be over £20bn for the programme as a whole.
Building work has not yet started in 33 of the projects, the BBC reported last week, with 31 saying they did not yet have the cash to begin core building work. Only two are finished and open.
Mr Barclay said the existing schemes for hospital building “will all proceed, but the commitment to completion by 2030 applies to the 40 schemes set out today”. He added that this “meets our manifesto commitment to build 40 hospitals by 2030”.
The cabinet minister justified the changing of which hospitals will be built by 2030, saying that since the manifesto pledge was made the government has learned more about the safety issue at existing sites.
He said: “We now know that Raac has a limited lifespan, with difficult and dangerous consequences for the people who rely on or work in those hospitals.”
When the Tory pledge was originally announced in 2019, there was some controversy about exactly what counts as a “new hospital”. NHS guidance suggests it can range from an entirely new building on a new site to a refurbishment or alteration of existing buildings.