Boris Johnson’s 2019 election promise to build 40 new hospitals in the UK by 2030 is facing a major setback. According to recent findings, only a quarter of the projects have secured full planning permission, and the remaining have either outline planning permission or no permission at all. With rising costs and “woefully insufficient” funding, NHS figures are concerned that the promise won’t be delivered on time. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the state of the hospital construction projects and the implications for the NHS.

It’s been two years since Johnson’s promise to build 40 new hospitals, but it’s become increasingly clear that many of the projects are not new hospitals, but extensions or refurbishments. An investigation by the Observer revealed that only 10 of the 40 projects have the full planning permissions they need to go ahead. 13 of the projects have no planning permission at all, and another 17 have only secured some kind of preliminary agreement or have no confirmed permission.

The delays in the hospital construction projects are causing a significant political problem for the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. NHS trusts are awaiting a funding settlement from the government to progress the planning and design stages of their proposed projects, and the cost of clearing the maintenance backlog might increase further due to inflation in the construction sector.

The delays are also having an impact on patients and staff. Many of the hospitals are crumbling and unusable, leading to long ambulance waiting times and a lack of safe environments for patients to receive treatment. The boss of one of the NHS trusts awaiting a new hospital said, “There’s a 0% chance there’s going to be 40 new hospitals by 2030. We’ll be moderately lucky to have eight.”

The programme has been beset with controversy ever since Johnson pledged to build “40 new hospitals” in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. Laurie Rachet-Jacquet, an economist at the Health Foundation, said that “the money allocated thus far is woefully insufficient and given rising inflation will deliver still less than anticipated and it is not clear that the government’s proposals go far enough to meet future hospital care needs.”

Saffron Cordery, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “Trusts need clarity and commitment from the government about the much-delayed New Hospitals Programme (NHP). Those forced to delay for many months now face spiralling, inflation-driven cost increases far above initial forecasts. The NHP can transform healthcare by providing badly needed renewal for acute, mental health, community and ambulance services. But we need to get a move on.”

The Department of Health and Social Care has responded, saying: “We are investing £3.7bn for the first four years of the New Hospital Programme and remain committed to all schemes that have been announced as part of it. Requirements for planning permission are dependent on construction timelines over the decade and we continue to work closely with trusts on their plans.”

It remains to be seen whether Boris Johnson’s promise to build 40 new hospitals in the UK by 2030 will be fulfilled. With rising costs and woefully insufficient funding, it’s clear that the project is facing significant delays and challenges. It’s time for the government to step up and provide clarity and commitment to the NHS trusts involved in the programme, so that they can get to work and ensure that patients are treated in safe environments.