Did you know that some hospitals are in such bad shape that they have to regularly close wards and operating theaters for the safety of patients? Julian Kelly, the deputy chief executive of NHS England, revealed this information during a hearing with the House of Commons public accounts committee. When questioned about the government’s plan to build 40 new hospitals by 2030, Kelly explained that certain NHS facilities were in a state of disrepair, leading to closures and a limited capacity to treat patients.
One of the main issues contributing to this problem is the structural integrity of the hospitals. Some are constructed with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac), which can become unsound over time. Additionally, the NHS’s capital budget constraints in recent years have led to deteriorating environments in these facilities. Kelly highlighted the challenges faced by hospital teams in managing fire risks, flooding, and other consequences of a lack of investment.
The NHS now faces a record backlog of maintenance across its estate in England, with a staggering cost of £10.2 billion. Approximately £1.8 billion is required to address high-risk issues requiring urgent repairs. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, serves as an example. It had to close four operating theaters between September 2022 and May 2023 to conduct essential failsafe work. The hospital has been implementing a decant program to relocate clinical services and wards to a temporary area while reinforcing the building’s infrastructure.
Amanda Pritchard, the chief executive of NHS England, acknowledged the burdensome nature of monitoring Raac. Enhanced monitoring cannot fully eliminate the risk, which is why the NHS plans to completely remove Raac from its estate by 2035. This comes as the Health Service Journal reports that Doncaster Royal Infirmary is at risk of enforced closure due to a plethora of issues stemming from its old age. The hospital was inexplicably removed from the list of 40 new hospitals scheduled for rebuilding.
During the session, Kelly and Shona Dunn, the second permanent secretary of the Department of Health and Social Care, admitted that the targeted 40 new hospitals would not be built by 2030. In the midst of all this, a recent analysis by the House of Commons library revealed that the seven hospitals most affected by Raac serve a population of 1.9 million people and employ 43,000 staff. Richard Murray of The King’s Fund rightly criticized this situation, pointing out that crumbling hospital buildings endanger both patients and staff—something that should be considered a national scandal.
In conclusion, the appalling condition of some hospitals in the UK poses significant risks to patients and healthcare workers alike. Urgent measures need to be taken to address maintenance backlogs and ensure the safety and well-being of everyone in these facilities.