Government plans to build and refurbish 40 hospitals in England could be put on hold, according to the Liberal Democrats, due to new analysis suggesting the health and social care department’s investment budget will be increased by £700m in real terms next year cut back.
With some hospitals in dire need of repair, the health secretary twice on Sunday refused to say the NHS was functioning properly, admitting instead that it was under “great pressure”.
Figures released in the autumn statement show that £12 billion has been allocated to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for its capital budget in 2022-23, which will be used for research and development, as well as long-term investment in construction and maintain NHS buildings, facilities and equipment. However, £11.7bn has been promised for the following year.
Using the Office for Budget Responsibility’s “GDP Deflator”, which measures expected changes in inflation over the coming years, the Lib Dems calculated that there would be a £700 million real capital budget fall in 2023-2024. can be.
Daisy Cooper, the party’s health spokeswoman, said it could potentially slow the rate at which hospitals are being built or refurbished, reinforcing fears revealed by NHS bosses in the summer that the program was “moving at a glacial pace”.
She said the Conservatives are “on the verge of cutting funding now needed for their key pledge of 40 new hospitals by 2030”. She added: “Our country’s hospitals are in dire need of repairs: there are too many horror stories of leaking roofs, overcrowded corridors and sweltering intensive care units.”
The government insisted it adhere to the timetable for the hospital’s construction and refurbishment by 2030, calling it “the largest hospital building programme” that would ensure “a stronger future for the NHS”.
A spokesperson for DHSC added: “We are taking action to accelerate hospital site construction, including spending time developing designs that can be shared across projects, preparing the construction industry for works and simultaneously building hospitals.”
It came after Health Secretary Steve Barclay insisted the government had not reneged on its promise to “restore social care” as measures to contain costs had been delayed until October 2025.
He said it had been a difficult decision to postpone plans announced by Boris Johnson to increase the amount of wealth a person can have before state funding for social care from £23,250 to £100,000 by two years, and to limiting lifelong care costs to £86,000.
An estimated 540,000 people in England are waiting for social care, financial assessment or review.
Barclay stressed that there was an “immediate problem” with hospitals given the backlog of surgeries and increasing ambulance wait times.
He blamed the pandemic on social care reform, saying the number of people waiting more than a year for surgery was just 1,300 before Covid and has now risen to 400,000. “By delaying these reforms, we can solve the real challenges we see in our emergency departments and in our ambulance services,” he said.
Asked twice if health care was working properly, Barclay said no. Instead, he said the NHS was “under a lot of pressure” and that despite “the very real challenges” in drafting Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement, the NHS would receive an additional £3.3bn in each of the next two years. while £4.7bn billion would go to social care.
Explaining why he wanted to scale back the number of NHS targets, Barclay told Sky News there was a place for them, but added: “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”
He said officials at the local level were “better able to align priorities with their local needs”.
As nurses prepare to go on strike for the first time, Barclay said his “door is open” and that he had met with the heads of the Royal College of Nurses and Unison this week.
Gary Smith, the general secretary of the GMB union, said he was “glowing” about the reassurances from the health minister. He said Barclay had been “misguided and quite dishonest” about having productive meetings that could curtail strike action.
He called on the government to abolish non-domiciled status for some 70,000 super-rich who live in the UK but pay no tax on their offshore income, and reinstate the cap on bankers’ bonuses to help give more money to the NHS .