Ben Gershlick, Senior Economist at the Health Foundation, said:
'The confirmation of a short-term boost to capital funding in England is welcome recognition of the urgent need for investment in the NHS’s creaking infrastructure. It is positive that the 20 upgrade projects announced are not just for hospitals but also include mental health and primary care facilities. But the process through which they have been chosen is opaque. Decisions about what upgrades to prioritise need to be informed by a clear and transparent assessment of where improvements are most urgently needed to benefit patient care.
'Given the scale of underinvestment in NHS buildings, equipment and technology in recent years, this level of funding will only scratch the surface and will not close the gap in health care capital spending between England and comparable countries. Even after this additional money, there remains a major risk to the quality of patient care posed by deteriorating facilities, out of date infrastructure and a shortage of equipment.
‘There is a £6bn maintenance backlog in trusts alone, of which over £3bn is 'high or significant risk', meaning that it is likely to be causing major disruption to services and impacting significantly on patient care quality and safety. Trusts have reported ward conditions so appalling that they impede patient recovery and the NHS has been unable to meet its 62-day target for cancer treatment for the past five years, partly due to a lack of diagnostic equipment and capacity.
'In this context, any new funding for buildings, equipment and technology will help, but allocating money late in the year and changing budgets multiple times is not an effective way to plan investment. The health secretary has promised a comprehensive settlement for capital spending that will follow this short-term boost. This is welcome but must happen sooner rather than later, and be driven by a transparent and robust assessment of the needs of patients and staff.
'Equally important will be adequate funding to address the workforce and social care crises and to reverse cuts to the public health grant – all vital to a high quality, sustainable health service. But with long-term funding decisions likely to be delayed due to uncertainty about the economic outlook, it is unclear when these warm words about a long-term settlement for capital will translate into action and where additional funding for the NHS will be found since experts agree that Brexit will not result in a fiscal windfall.'
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