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Britain lagging in delivery of new hospitals, watchdog says

The promise of 40 new hospitals in England by 2030 has been criticised as some of the proposals were for renovations of existing hospitals.

Reuters
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A pedestrian wearing a mask because of Covid-19 walks past Tower Bridge in London on Nov 1, 2020. Photo: AFP
A pedestrian wearing a mask because of Covid-19 walks past Tower Bridge in London on Nov 1, 2020. Photo: AFP

Britain's hospital building programme is progressing too slowly and is too expensive, an independent public spending watchdog said on Monday, adding to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's headaches as he prepares for an election expected next year.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said only 32 of 40 hospitals promised by former PM Boris Johnson were due to be completed on schedule by 2030.

"Delivery so far has been slower than expected," said Gareth Davies, the head of the non-partisan NAO.

In a report the watchdog said the government "has not achieved good value for money" with its New Hospital Programme so far, adding it had spent US$1.44 billion (about RM6.5 billion) by March 2023.

Sunak has made cutting hospital waiting lists one of his priorities for 2023.

The hospital building target was a 2019 election pledge of Johnson, who resigned as leader last year and has now left parliament. The promise of 40 new hospitals in England by 2030 has been criticised as some of the proposals were for renovations of existing hospitals.

Eight other hospitals that had been approved by the health ministry before Johnson made his pledge had not originally been intended to count towards the target, the NAO said.

Including those projects, there would be 40 new hospitals by the end of the decade, a health ministry spokesperson said.

"We remain firmly committed to delivering these hospitals," the spokesperson said.

Meg Hillier, an opposition Labour Party lawmaker who chairs parliament's public accounts committee, said there had been a "woeful lack of progress" towards hitting the target which the government was now trying to change.

"The Department of Health and Social Care has been trying to move the goal posts so it can claim it has met its target," she said in a statement.

"Patients and clinicians are going to have to wait much longer than they expected before their new hospitals are completed."

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