The ‘significant’ risk in the NHS maintenance backlog has doubled from £1.5bn in 2014/15 to £3bn last year, analysis by the House of Commons Library found. Health bosses say this work “must be addressed with urgent priority in order to prevent catastrophic failure”.
Scores of serious incidents have already occurred due to building deterioration – including patients having to sleep in coats in freezing wards, operations being delayed due to leaks on to operating tables and blocked drains causing sewage to seep into clinical areas, according to research by Labour.
The chancellor resisted pressure to pour funds into wider NHS budgets in his statement on Monday, when he set out details for a £20bn offer for front-line health services over the next five years, first announced by Theresa May in the summer.
However, health experts have made clear that the government’s pledge was “far from sufficient” to stabilise the NHS against rising demand. They say extra funding is needed for vital areas such as public health, staff training and capital investment for long-term planning.
Official NHS figures put the total repairs bill at £6bn in 2017/18, an increase of £1.6bn in three years, as the government has raided long-term budgets to plug gaps in day-to-day services.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The rapidly rising backlog of repairs facing the NHS means crumbling hospitals and out of date equipment. This is now putting patients’ safety at risk.
“And yet shockingly the NHS infrastructure budget was actually cut by the chancellor this week. In fact there was more new cash for fixing potholes than fixing hospitals. Patients deserve better than this.”
Hospital trusts are having to scrap or delay major projects due to cuts to capital funding, despite the record repairs bill, according to the NHS.
Saffron Cordery, of NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, told The Independent: “Under-investment in the NHS estate is a false economy. Trusts have had to delay, cancel or rethink projects due to the limited access to this funding.
“This comes at the expense of investing in new facilities and equipment which will improve the experience of patients and allow the NHS to move to more streamlined ways of delivering care.
“For too long capital budgets have been used to prop up day-to-day spending.
“We will need the forthcoming review of NHS capital spending to reverse this trend and provide adequate and long-term investment to ensure trusts can meet growing demand and the future needs of patients.”
Mr Hammond used his Budget speech to set out the “single largest cash commitment to our public services ever made by a peacetime government” as part of the £20bn funding boost to mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS.
Mental health services will receive a £2bn annual boost to make support available in every A&E department. There will also be more specialist ambulances, Mr Hammond told MPs.
The chancellor also vowed to spend £650m on care for the elderly, but critics warned the funding would “only just stave off total collapse”. Councils require £2.35bn next year to cope with rising demand from the growing elderly population.
Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics for the Health Foundation, an independent charity, said: “The NHS was the clear winner in the chancellor’s budget but there is a big risk that it won’t feel like that in hospitals and GP surgeries over the coming year.
“Extra funding starts next year and rises to £20.5bn in 2023/24. This money is for front-line NHS services.
“It excludes wider areas of vital health spending where funding is also desperately needed: public health, workforce training and capital investment.”
The Department of Health and Social Care’s overall budget will increase by just 2.7 per cent in 2019/20 – less than the 3.3 per cent minimum required just to stand still in the face of ever rising demand and cost pressures, she said.
Ms Charlesworth added: “On top of this, higher than expected inflation means that unless the chancellor tops up next year’s NHS England allocation before his spending review, the NHS England budget will increase by 3.3 per cent, which is less than the 3.6 per cent promised by the prime minister in the summer.”
Pressed on whether the government would commit to reverse cuts to capital and public budgets, health secretary Matt Hancock told MPs on Tuesday that the government was guaranteeing £20bn for the NHS.
“It is the biggest increase in any spending commitment for any public service in the history of this country – and it’s a pity the leader of the opposition doesn’t want to hear about it.”
He went on: “This is not government money, this is not NHS money, this is the hard-earned money from taxpayers and we need to make sure it is spent wisely.”
The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.
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