Heath Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been slammed for using money intended for building projects on day-to-day spending instead, as overdue hospital repairs mount up.
In a letter, the Shadow Heath Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, accused Hunt of creating a “dangerous backlog” after he shifted £1.2bn from capital to current spending for 2016-17 in the Autumn Statement.
Ashworth pointed out that the NHS “high risk” repair bill has rocketed by 69% in the past year, and called new investment “critical”.
In previous years the funds have been switched when the NHS found no viable capital projects.
But figures revealed earlier this month suggested money was needed urgently to patch up crumbling hospitals.
The sum needed prevent “serious injury” and “catastrophic failure” in hospitals has increased from £458 million to £775.5 million in the past year.
Dilapidated hospitals and facilities were revealed as a key reason NHS trusts get placed in “special measures”, as ten hospital sites across England were found to have a high risk backlog of over £10 million.
Elsewhere in the letter, Ashworth said Hunt had failed the “key challenge” of addressing the NHS funding crisis, and accused the Health Secretary of “burying” downwards revisions to the NHS workforce in the Autumn Statement.
“The Care Quality Commission has warned that we are approaching a “tipping point” in social care. Yet, the Chancellor chose to ignore these concerns and failed to offer a single penny of additional funding last week,” he said.
Here is the letter in full:
Department of Health
London SW1A 2NS
Dear Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP,
You will be aware that the Chancellor, Philip Hammond MP, presented his first Autumn Statement to the House last week.
You will also be aware that I have been calling on the Chancellor, and yourself, to answer the unprecedented chorus of voices calling for urgent additional investment in our NHS and social care.
Simon Stevens, the Head of NHS England said just last month that the next three years would be the toughest yet for NHS funding and 2018-19 would see negative per person funding growth for the first time ever. And the Care Quality Commission has warned that we are approaching a “tipping point” in social care. Yet, the Chancellor chose to ignore these concerns and failed to offer a single penny of additional funding last week.
I am writing to you today to raise these very important issues again and to seek clarification on a number of concerns in the detail of last week’s Autumn Statement.
First, I was concerned to see buried in the detail of the Autumn Statement documents that the NHS has revised down its workforce growth assumptions this year (page 157 of the OBR Economic and Fiscal Outlook). I would like to seek clarification on this; when was this decision taken? Who was it taken by and when did you first become aware of it? And what are the new, and old, workforce projections figures for this year?
Second, I was hoping that the Autumn Statement would explain why £1.2 billion of Department of Health spending has been switched from capital to current spending for 2016-17 (page 146 of the OBR Economic and Fiscal Outlook). On the 15 November, I raised my concerns about the backlog of high-risk maintenance investment already facing the NHS, which in the past year alone soared by 69 per cent. I fear that reducing the capital budget further risks a dangerous backlog of much needed critical investment. I would like to seek clarification on this; when was the decision taken to switch the £1.2 billion from capital to current spending? Who was it taken by and when did you first become aware of it? And what assessments have been carried out on the impact of reduced capital spend, and what part of the capital budget will now be reduced?
Third, I am concerned about the impact of the Chancellor’s higher inflation forecasts, for next year and 2018, on the financial sustainability of health and social care. What plans do you have to take account of these inflationary pressures and ensure that the dire state of the finances do not deteriorate even further? Could you also inform me of any conversations you are having with local authorities about the impact of higher inflation on their care providers and the potential for reduced fees or below inflation increases?
Health and social care budgets are already facing huge pressures, with the NHS facing the biggest financial squeeze in its history and with hospitals ending 2015-16 in deficit of £2.45 billion, the worst on record. While social care budget have been cut by £4.5 billion and delayed transfers of care are now at their highest level since records began
The Autumn Statement failed one of the key challenges facing our county: the funding crisis in our health and social care services. In addition, a number of questions and concerns have now come to light that were hidden in the detail of the Autumn Statement documents.
I would appreciate a swift response to the questions set out above.
I look forward to your reply.
Jonathan Ashworth MP
A Department of Health spokesperson said:
“This Government has taken tough economic decisions that have allowed us to invest in our NHS, which is meeting record patient demand whilst improving standards of care.
“Transferring from the capital budget allows us to invest extra resources in the frontline to ensure patients get the best possible care, especially where specific capital projects have not been identified in a given year. We are still investing over £20bn over the next five years for maintenance and new buildings to ensure NHS facilities meet the highest possible standards.”