GPs hit out at government's hospital-focused NHS funding pledge

Government plans for the 'biggest hospital building programme in a generation' have been criticised by top GPs - with one warning they make 'zero sense'.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock promised '40 new hospitals right across the country' as part of a new 'health infrastructure plan' as the Conservative party conference began in Manchester.

Opposition politicians, however, have said the plans are unravelling - after the government admitted that it was investing £2.7bn in just six hospitals to begin work that would be complete by 2025, with a further 21 hospitals receiving a share of £100m in 'seed funding' to develop business cases for investment.

The BMA said the government's announcement was welcome - give the NHS had been 'woefully underfunded for years'. But it warned that a promise of investment in hospitals was clearly not enough, warning that 'the problem is not limited to hospitals as investment in primary and social care is just as important'.

GP premises

Former BMA GP committee member Dr Zoe Norris - now clinical director of a primary care network (PCN) in Yorkshire, said the government announcement made 'zero sense' given that 90% of patient contacts in the NHS took place outside hospital.

She warned on Twitter that the focus on hospital investment was in contradiction to government policy on developing primary care networks - dismissing the announcement as 'electioneering pure and simple'.

Under the government proposals, hospitals receiving seed funding can hope to complete improvements by 2030 - and other hospitals will have a chance to 'bid to be part of future funding rounds'.

Labour shadow health and social care secretary Jon Ashworth said on Twitter that instead of '40 new hospitals in fact it’s six hospital reconfigurations'. He added that cuts had left hospitals with a '£6bn backlog of repairs'.

Hospital investment

The six trusts sharing the £2.7bn investment are Barts Health Trust, Epsom and St Helier Trust, West Hertfordshire Trust, Princess Alexandra Hospital Trust, University Hospitals of Leicester Trust and Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust.

The government said the funding was 'on top' of investment annouced under the NHS long-term plan.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'Given that the NHS has been woefully underfunded for years and patient care has suffered as a result, new investment in hospital buildings and the modernisation of scanners is a positive step forward.

'With fewer hospital beds per population compared to other European countries, and a backlog in maintenance and repairs totalling billions, this will clearly not be enough to deliver what is needed. The problem is not limited to hospitals as investment in primary and social care is just as important.

Workforce crisis

'As doctors we know that hospitals are only as good as the staff who run them and given the scale of the workforce crisis in the NHS, with 100,000 unfilled vacancies, the government must understand the importance of addressing this if they are to successfully deliver their plan.'

Head of research and economics at the Health Foundation Anita Charlesworth said the government's 'piecemeal' funding announcement 'falls well short of the scale of the challenge'.

She added: 'With a backlog of maintenance and repairs that amounts to more than £6bn - much of which threatens patients' 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.

'The need for more investment in hospitals is very visible but the NHS is more than just hospital buildings. This is a very narrow view of the investment needed to secure the health service for the future. There is also an urgent need for investment in GP premises across the country.'

The BMA called for major investment in GP premises earlier this year - warning that half were no longer fit for purpose.

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