Thought leadership

Twenty hospitals in England due to receive an extra £850m funding for upgrades to outdated facilities and new equipment have been revealed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will formally announce the plans – part of NHS spending pledges totalling £1.8bn – at a Lincolnshire hospital on Monday.

Projects the £850m will pay for include a new women and children’s hospital in Cornwall.

But a healthcare charity said the money risked being a “drop in the ocean”.

The funding pledge comes during a week of health policy announcements by the government, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock expected to announce pension changes aimed at ending staffing problems.

The £850m is to be spread out over five years, with the remaining £1bn intended to tackle a backlog of hospital upgrades this year.

It comes on top of an extra £20bn a year by 2023 announced by former prime minister Theresa May last year.

Ahead of his visit to Lincolnshire, Mr Johnson said the new money – less than 1% of the annual NHS budget – would mean “more beds, new wards, and extra life-saving equipment”.

“It’s time to face up to this challenge and make sure the NHS receives the funds it needs, to continue being the best healthcare service in the world,” he said.

Mr Johnson previously said he was “determined to deliver” on the promises of the 2016 EU referendum, after criticism of the Vote Leave campaign’s claim that £350m a week was sent to the EU and could be spent on the NHS instead.

Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast the NHS was “priority number one” for the new prime minister.

He said money for hospital upgrades was possible because the economy was growing, and the funds would be available this year.

Responding to the funding announcement, the Health Foundation said “years of under-investment in the NHS’s infrastructure means this extra money risks being little more than a drop in the ocean”.

Ben Gershlick, from the charity, added that NHS facilities in England were “in major disrepair”, with a £6bn maintenance backlog.

Labour’s shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there was “huge scepticism” about whether the funding was new, suggesting it came from money previously promised to hospitals for cutting costs.

Earlier he said the government’s willingness to leave the EU without a deal would be “a catastrophe” for the NHS, especially as the expected 31 October deadline coincides with the pressures of winter.

Sally Warren, director of Health Think Tank The King’s Fund, said the announcement gave the NHS “new spending power”.

“At one level, yes it is new money – if the Treasury today were not providing this money, NHS trusts would not be able to spend this £1.8bn,” she said.

“But another view is that actually – particularly the £1bn that’s been announced today – is really reversing cuts that trusts were asked to make this year.”

The head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, said the money was a “significant start” to “much needed capital investment”.

“The concrete steps being set out this week will mean investment flows directly to frontline services, providing new clinics and wards,” he added.

Later this week, the health secretary is also expected to announce changes to the NHS pension scheme after senior doctors said new rules meant they could not afford to work extra shifts to tackle waiting lists.

One hospital said the rule change, which means “punitive” taxes for doctors who take additional shifts and exceed the limit for pensions contributions, was the equivalent of losing 60 consultants.

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