'Not going to happen': Ministers told 'come clean' on 40 new hospitals pledge

Ministers have been told to "come clean" on their promise of 40 new hospitals by 2030, after the health secretary admitted not all those in original plans would be built.

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said in the Commons that Boris Johnson's pledge of 40 new hospitals by the end of the decade was "simply not going to happen" after his counterpart insisted it would.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the government remains committed to the former prime minister's promise and announced it would be backed by a £20 billion investment in hospital infrastructure.

But he acknowledged "not all work will be completed by 2030" on several of the original group of hospitals due to structural problems encountered which were initially uncovered by ITV News.

There has been concern over future of several NHS hospitals in a bad state of repair, owing to the use of Raac (reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete) materials.

In February, half of the 87 hospital trusts in England that responded to Freedom of Information requests had at least one unresolved structural or maintenance issue, as of October 2022.

One doctor told ITV News conditions are so poor in hospitals she has worked in that “we are always just hoping that the next time something happens it does not cause something catastrophic.”

In Torbay Hospital, a "high-level review" of concrete within the site's old building was carried out following the discovery of "significant structural defects" in the floors above two operating theatres. 

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Norfolk told ITV News in February there are 3,397 steel and timber support props in place around 56 areas of the hospital.

Around 80% of the hospital was constructed using concrete panels made of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete, according to data obtained by ITV News.

Described by one hospital boss as “a ticking timebomb”, this type of concrete is lightweight and cheaper than traditional concrete was used in construction between the 1960s and 1980s.

Mr Barclay told MPs the government remained 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: “We accept in full the independent assessment that these hospitals are not safe to operate beyond 2030.

“And today I can confirm to the House that we will expand our new hospitals programme to include those five hospitals built with significant amounts of Raac.

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“Taken together with the two Raac hospitals already in the programme, the seven Raac hospitals will be completely rebuilt using a standardised design known as hospital 2.0, with the aim of completing all seven by 2030.

“And I can confirm to the House today that these new hospitals will be fully funded."

Mr Streeting said: “What a relief to those communities that finally the secretary of state has come forward to confirm that they will at least be built and I hope that they will do so at speed so that we can make sure that this at least one group of hospitals that really is built by 2030.”

He added: “Turning to his wider promise, I genuinely expected that the Secretary of State might come to the House today and be upfront about the fact that whatever promises the former prime minister, the member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), made in 2019, the pledge to build 40 new hospitals by 2030 is simply not going to happen.

“It was a straightforward commitment: 40 new hospitals. Except since then, we have become familiar with the idea that they weren’t new and astonishingly they weren’t even new hospitals.”

Mr Streeting went on: “People in these places were made a promise, and the Secretary of State has 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.

“Will he now come clean and admit that this is just another example of the Conservatives overpromising and underdelivering?”