Boris Johnson has announced plans to spend £1.8bn more on the National Health Service.
In a written statement, Johnson said: “It is thanks to this country’s strong economic performance that we are now able to announce £1.8bn more for the NHS to buy vital new kit and confirm new upgrades for 20 hospitals across the country.”
“Today I’m delivering on this promise with a £1.8bn cash injection – meaning more beds, new wards, and extra life-saving equipment to ensure patients continue to receive world-class care.”
The investment for the 2019-20 financial year comes as health leaders have warned that hospitals are so short of money that some represent a hazard to patients and staff.
Across the UK there will be 20 hospitals sharing £850m to improve outdated facilities and equipment, while £1bn has been added to NHS capital spending, funding existing upgrade programmes and additional urgent infrastructure projects.
It will go to five hospitals in the north west, four in the east of England, four in the Midlands and three in the north east and Yorkshire region. Two hospitals in London, and one each in the south east and south west, will also benefit.
Last month NHS Providers, which represents England’s hospitals, estimated the cost of carrying out the backlog of essential maintenance at about £6bn, a 50 per cent increase since 2013-14, as the sector has delayed vital work because of austerity-driven cutbacks.
Stressing that the funding was on top of an extra £34bn in cash terms by 2023-24 announced last year by his predecessor Theresa May, Mr Johnson said: “My job is to make sure that we use the funds that go into the NHS to reduce the time you wait to see your GP, the time you wait in A&E.”
However, a leading expert on health service finances said much of the money had already been sitting unspent on hospital balance sheets, as a result of Treasury restrictions on capital expenditure.
Sally Gainsbury, senior policy analyst at the Nuffield Trust think-tank, said hospitals had accumulated the money through a three-year incentive scheme under which if they cut their spending by 50 per cent more than they needed to in order to break even, they were rewarded with cash to spend on capital projects – like new equipment and repairs to buildings.
In each of the three years, up to 90 of the 226 NHS trusts in England qualified. However, Ms Gainsbury reported in April this year that the Department of Health and Social Care was planning to backtrack on the deal and prevent hospitals from going on a spending splurge, due to concerns about breaching department capital spending limits.
Eleanor Roy, health and social care policy manager at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, said that while the extra £1.8bn of capital funding was “greatly welcome”, it “should be noted that more than half of this ‘boost’ to the NHS represents cash that many NHS providers already have”.
The government hasn’t disputed this account, although have since claimed that the remaining £850m comes from a different source, and that the cash announced this weekend is on top of money previously announced at Budgets and Spending Reviews.
Additionally, initial reactions from the healthcare sector suggest the funding will not be enough to bridge the shortfall which has been in place for years, with fears the cash may be at risk in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the government needed to acknowledge the scale of the capital shortages, arguing that an extra £3bn was required to rectify “safety critical” issues alone.
He added that, if the government was to deliver the long-term plan for the NHS, published in January, which emphasised the need for speedier diagnosis of cancer and other conditions, “we will need to upgrade a number of hospitals that are really due for upgrade”.
However, it was “really important the government understands that the need for investment isn’t just about acute hospitals but also about mental health trusts and community and ambulance services”. In the mental health sector, “we are still having to treat seriously ill patients in wards built in the 1840s,” he added.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “Tory ministers have cut over £4bn from NHS investment budgets with continued smash and grab raids, resulting in crumbling hospitals, faulty equipment, sub-standard mental health facilities and the cancellation of cancer diagnosis appointments.
“When our health services continue to be cut and the NHS struggles with a shortage of 100,000 staff, this announcement falls significantly short of what’s needed to provide patients with the quality, safe care they deserve.”