A new Health Infrastructure Plan is crucial for the future of the NHS
Entering Downing Street three years ago, the Prime Minister put health infrastructure front and centre for his government, pledging to build dozens of new hospitals across our country.
Since then, we have had the publication of the five-year Health Infrastructure Plan (HIP), invitations for expression of interest for the first eight hospitals and the first multi-year capital settlement for the NHS since 2015.
Under the leadership of Natalie Forrest, the New Hospital Programme (NHP) is charged with delivering 48 new hospitals by 2030, described by the government as the biggest hospital building programme in a generation with £3.7 billion in funding. On top of this, a further £850 million is available to upgrade 20 existing hospitals.
These developments were the catalyst for cross-party parliamentarians to come together last year to revive the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Healthcare Infrastructure. Our mission is simple: to highlight the importance of high-quality healthcare infrastructure to support the NHS in meeting the demands of the future, including post-pandemic care.
Ministers agree with us on the need to acknowledge the impact of the pandemic on their plans to provide a clear, long-term, strategic framework for health infrastructure.
Addressing the NHS England and NHS Improvement National Estates and Facilities Forum in March 2021, Health Minister Ed Argar MP said: “We must now look to refresh our strategy to set an even clearer direction that reflects the lessons we have learned from Covid-19.”
Since then, we have waited with bated breath for the refresh of HIP to set the framework for estates investment over the next decade, including the strategy for new hospitals and hospital upgrades and the standards for these projects.
Some delay arises from the massive interest in the New Hospital Building Programme (NHP) with 128 expressions of interest for the first round of eight projects expected to be greenlit this spring. Intense competition from across the NHS is to be expected with the maintenance backlog standing at £10 billion, and high-risk estates like mental healthcare facing rising costs.
The NHP team must carefully assess these bids, but other fundamentals have changed in the last three years. Only one of the original six hospitals prioritised for completion by 2025 will meet that date. The public and the NHS need confidence these projects will be delivered on time.
The first iteration of HIP also made it clear that new hospital replacements would need ‘public capital funding’. These words were written in 2019 when DHSC identified a ‘significant unmet demand for capital in the system’. We need clarity about how the New Hospital Programme and pledged investment in our acute sector fits with the post-pandemic public finances.
The APPG will be launching a call for evidence on meeting short, medium, and long-term health infrastructure needs shortly. We want to hear from partners and professionals in the acute sector.
A refreshed version of HIP will be critical to returning to ‘normality’ as we move on from Covid. We want to hear what you need to succeed.
Chris Green is the Member of Parliament for Bolton West and the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Healthcare Infrastructure.