Boris Johnson’s promise to build 40 new hospitals by 2030 is facing investigation by a public spending watchdog.
The National Audit Office (NAO) is planning a “value-for-money assessment” that could stretch the growing costs of soaring inflation and whether the hospitals are truly new.
The proposed investigation was revealed in a letter to Health Secretary Wes Streeting from NAO head Gareth Davies after the Labor MP warned of a waste of taxpayer money.
The head of the opposition has called for an investigation into delays around the hospital program announced by the prime minister during the 2019 general election campaign to help ease pressure on NHS.
Ministers have defended the progress of the plan and insisted they are “continuing that work”.
However, Mr Streeting said many NHS trusts were still waiting for funds to be allocated and many of the schemes were in fact alterations or refurbishments not “new hospitals”.
At the end of last year, Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer challenged the prime minister over New Hospital Program Communication Playbook materialwhich advised trusts to call new hospitals even if they add another wing or involve a major renovation of an existing hospital building.
The Department of Health and Social Care website, titled “What will these new hospitals look like?”, states: “In some cases, they will be new hospitals on a new location. , in other cases a new hospital on an existing site, a major redevelopment or refurbishment on an existing site or a new section of an existing hospital, as long as it contains the full range of clinical services. “
In a letter to Mr Streeting, first reported by the Observer, Mr Davies, NAO’s head of calculations, said: “I can confirm that I already have plans to begin a value-for-money assessment. of the New Hospital Program later this year and my report finds in 2023.
“I have forwarded your letter to my Health Value for Money team so that it can consider the specific issues you raise when developing the scope of review.
“In particular, I note your comments on the impact of delay on cost increases at a time of high inflation like today and the question of whether all projects can really meet classified as ‘new hospital’ or not.”
‘Boris Johnson’s Imagination’
The investigation will add to the pressure on the embattled prime minister, already grappling with a string of scandals including party and allegations of sexual misconduct are raised among Tory MPs, including Chris Pincher.
Mr Streeting said: “The only place these ’40 new hospitals’ currently exist is in the imagination of Boris Johnson.
“The election manifesto promise now looks to be another example of the Conservative Party giving too much and over-distributing.”
The Conservative Party manifesto states the party will “build and fund 40 new hospitals over the next 10 years”.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge program on Sunday, Work and Pensions Minister Therese Coffey said some projects have been completed and others are underway.
“This is a reasonable long-term project,” she said.
“We’re getting started on that, and I know many communities around the country are really appreciating the additional facilities – rebuilt facilities as well as brand new facilities – to ensure make sure they have 21st century health care available to treat like the sick.”
“We are on track to deliver 40 new hospitals by 2030,” the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement.
“We are working closely with the NHS and trust the development of their building plans.
“Each construction project will be new hospitals providing brand new, state-of-the-art facilities to ensure the delivery of world-class healthcare to NHS patients and staff by replacing outdated infrastructure.”