From funding 40 hospitals to just six in a matter of hours
On the first day of the Conservative's conference in Manchester on 29 September 2019, MAtt Hancock, Secretary of State for the Department of Health and Social Care, announced yet more funding for the NHS. The announcement of £13 billion and 40 new hospitals for the NHS, very quickly unravelled however, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, admitting on the BBC Andrew Marr show the morning of the announcement that all that was definite was £2.7 billion for six hospital trusts over the next five years. These six trusts already have plans in the pipeline for major refurbishments and rebuilds - none of the projects is a new hospital.
The six trusts are Whipps Cross hospital, Epsom and St Helier trust, West Hertfordshire trust, Princess Alexandra Hospital trust, University Hospitals of Leicester trust and Leeds Teaching Hospitals trust.
The announcement also set out a second phase of investment to deliver 34 hospital rebuilds between 2025 and 2030. These will be kick-started by providing £100 million of seed funding to support the development of business cases for 21 building projects around the country.
Experts welcome the money, but point out that it is not enough, particularly as the backlog cost of maintenance is £6 billion, and such piecemeal funding makes planning difficult for trusts.
Anita Charlesworth head of research and economics at the Health Foundation think tank noted in The Guardian that:
“While this money is very much needed following years of underinvestment in the NHS’s crumbling infrastructure, it falls well short of the scale of the challenge. With a backlog of maintenance and repairs that amounts to more than £6bn - much of which threatens patient’s safety – and dozens of NHS trust upgrade projects that have been delayed or cancelled, the figure needed is closer to £3bn each year for the next five years. Such piecemeal funding makes it difficult for trusts to adequately plan their spending. What is ultimately needed is a substantial, long-term capital settlement which is allocated based on a clear assessment of the health care service’s needs.”
Richard Murray, chief executive of the King’s Fund, also noted in The Guardian that although the money sounds substantial its not the same as a proper multi-year capital funding plan.
“The lack of clarity around how the new schemes have been selected and how the pledges fit within the Department of Health and Social Care’s overall financial settlement makes it difficult to tell how generous the government is being.”
£1.8 billion pledge revealed as not new money
On Sunday 4 August 2019, Boris Johnson promised an extra £1.8 billion in funding for the NHS. The majority of the money, £850 million, will be primarily targeted at 20 hospital upgrade projects in England, with Scotland receiving £180 million, Wales £110 million and Northern Ireland £60 million.
The money, which is in addition to the long-term spending increase for the NHS announced last year worth an extra £20bn by 2023, will lead to the NHS’s capital budget rising by 30% this year.
The backlog in maintenance is estimated by NHS Digital to be around £6 billion - that's how much it will cost to bring all hospitals up to standard. That cost does not include how much is needed to upgrade hospitals to make them fit for the coming years and to use new technology. Furthermore, the money promised by Johnson is targeted at just 20 projects - what happens to all those other trusts that are struggling with crumbling infrastructure and facilities barely fit-for-purpose?
In a Guardian article Prof Derek Alderson, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said he welcomed the additional investment but said the announcement was “like an absent landlord saying he’ll mend the shower, but the broken toilet, damp walls and dodgy electrics will have to wait. The NHS maintenance backlog bill stands at £6bn. Today we have £1bn towards that, but the question is how long it will take for the money to reach the frontline.”
An explainer on the capital budget can be found in our Lowdown publication.
Once the details of this money were determined, its clear that this is not really new money at all.
Sally Gainsbury, a policy analyst at the Nuffield Trust, explained on twitter, how the money is money that the trusts have gained through implementing significant cuts to spending over the past three years.
Sally Gainsbury outlined how the trusts were told that if they cut their costs, they would receive a cash reward that could be spend on infrastructure, known as the Provider Sustainability Fund (PSF). Around 70 to 90 trusts cut their spending significantly, in return they were told they could have £2.3 billion in rewards, which could only be spent on capital projects. But the trusts spending also had to be within the budget for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). So when the DHSC cut the spending limit for all trusts - the trusts that had worked so hard to reduce spending and gain the cash reward, were told they couldn't spend it as if they did they would take the total spending to over the DHSC spending limits.
Comments from other think-tanks and NHS organisations, show that although the money is welcomed, it is considered not nearly enough to have a major impact on the problems in the NHS.
NHS Providers, the organisation that represents the hospital trusts, noted "NHS Providers welcomes NHS capital investment but warns more is needed to deliver long term improvements" Chris Hopson, the organisation's CEO said:
“The longest and deepest financial squeeze in NHS history and rapidly rising demand for health care have left NHS frontline staff with a series of challenges they’re struggling to meet, despite working flat out. Those challenges include a crumbling estate, ageing equipment, 100,000 staff vacancies, pension rules that penalise many staff who work extra hours and a social care system in crisis. Taken together, this is leading to lengthening waiting lists and poorer patient care, despite the NHS treating 5% more patients this year than last."
The Health Foundation, think-tank, tweeted:
Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, a membership organisation for commissioners and providers of NHS care, and chief executive of NHS Employers, said:
“The Prime Minister’s promise of another £1.8 billion for the health service to buy vital new equipment and upgrades of facilities is clearly welcome. This money is desperately needed to modernise services and working environments and improve the quality and efficiency of patient care. Spending on NHS buildings, equipment and digital technology is half the OECD average and woefully inadequate. There is a huge logjam of cases for investment in the NHS and there are many old buildings that cannot be adapted to deliver modern patient care."
And the think-tank The King's Fund said: