Boris Johnson has set out plans for 40 new hospitals as the Tories prepare to make the NHS a key battleground in the next general election.
The announcement has come as the Prime Minister heads into a Conservative Party conference fighting battles on several fronts, including more claims about his association with former American model turned tech businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri.
With the conference opening in Manchester on Sunday, Mr Johnson said the Government was embarking on “the biggest hospital building programme in a generation”.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, he said spending on the NHS was “absolutely central” to his vision of a “united society and a united country”.
Under the plans drawn up by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, he said they would be spending £13 billion on what officials described as “new” hospitals – either with entirely new buildings or gutting existing structures to create state-of-the-art facilities.
Taken alongside the extra £33.9 billion the Government has committed to the NHS each year by 2023, he said it was “the largest sum that has ever been invested in the NHS”.
He said: “We’re launching the biggest hospital building programme in a generation. You will have seen that on the steps of Downing Street I announced 20 new hospital upgrades.
“We’re now following that up with 40 new hospitals we’re going to be doing across the country. It’s the biggest programme of hospital building in a generation.”
Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding Mr Johnson and Ms Arcuri has flared anew, with The Sunday Times reporting Ms Arcuri told friends she had an affair with him while he was mayor of London.
On Friday, the Prime Minister was referred to the police complaints body to assess whether he should face a criminal investigation over his links with the former model.
The Sunday Times reported Ms Arcuri was given £126,000 in public money and privileged access to three foreign trade missions led by Mr Johnson while he was mayor.
Mr Johnson has consistently denied any wrongdoing in relation to his links with Ms Arcuri.
Announcing his hospitals plan, Mr Johnson said it would begin with a £2.7 billion cash injection for six hospitals over the next five years.
The remaining projects, including up to a dozen smaller rural hospitals, would be completed over the second half of the next decade.
Ministers are also providing £100 million in “seed funding” to help 21 trusts develop plans to rebuild or construct 34 hospitals, including up to a dozen community hospitals in Dorset.
Following the Supreme Court ruling his suspension of Parliament was unlawful, the Prime Minister offered support for a suggestion by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox that in future Supreme Court justices may need to undergo a US-style vetting by politicians.
“I think, if judges are to pronounce on political questions in this way, then there is at least an argument that there should be some form of accountability,” he said.
“The lessons of America are relevant.”
Mr Johnson arrived in Manchester for a conference which faces being overshadowed by moves to oust him at Westminster while he is also under pressure to explain his links with businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri while he was London mayor.
The Prime Minister refused to answer questions about his political and personal battles as he arrived with girlfriend Carrie Symonds at the Midland Hotel.
A small group of protesters gathered outside the ring of steel which surrounds the conference venue, and their anti-Brexit cries could be heard as Mr Johnson got out of his ministerial Jaguar.
“Boris is a liar” and “get your Johnson out of our democracy” were among the slogans chanted by the demonstrators.
The Government’s defeat in the Supreme Court and its failure to win a Commons vote to schedule a recess for the conference means that Tory MPs face shuttling between Manchester and Westminster to counter the threat of an ambush by opposition parties.
A senior SNP MP said the opposition parties could stage a vote of no-confidence in the Government as early as next week in a bid to replace the Prime Minister with a caretaker leader who would secure an extension to the Brexit deadline.
Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn is expected to convene another meeting of opposition leaders in Westminster on Monday to plot their next moves aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit on October 31.
Speaking to reporters at a rally in Chingford, Essex, Mr Corbyn said he stood ready to lead an interim government if Mr Johnson was forced from No 10.