We must build health infrastructure fit for the 21st centuryby Edward Argar / June 23, 2020 / Leave a comment
With our country turning the tide on coronavirus, the worst global pandemic in a century, it is right that we look forward while at the same time staying alert to prevent a resurgence of the virus.
Whilst this invisible killer has disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives, it has also reminded us all of the very special place which the NHS holds in our nation’s heart. As we emerge from this period, we do so more committed than ever to securing the future of the NHS and the health of the nation.
Throughout the pandemic the government, with the support of the British public, has worked tirelessly to protect the health service, to ensure it had the capacity and resources it needed so that demand never outstripped capacity, and as a result, lives were saved.
But while the focus recently has been on tackling the pandemic, the work on delivering our long-term Health Infrastructure Plan and our commitment of 40 new hospitals has continued at pace.
In the past, the approach to NHS buildings and infrastructure by governments of all political complexions has been piecemeal and uncoordinated, but now more than ever it is essential that we properly invest in and plan for the future of the NHS.
After all, our frontline health and care workers, to whom as a nation we owe our gratitude, have brought us through this crisis and they deserve modern, state-of-the-art facilities in which to carry out their lifesaving work. This in turn will help provide better care and a better experience for patients, and ensure the NHS is fit for the future.
The Health Infrastructure Plan (HIP) launched last year set our priorities over the long term, and is designed to give our world-class health professionals the “tools” they need to do their jobs.
At its core is the largest hospital-building programme in a generation, launched with a £2.7bn investment that gives six new hospitals the funding to go ahead now, with the pledge to deliver 40 new hospitals in total over the next ten years.
Last year we also announced £1.8bn to upgrade outdated facilities and equipment and tackle urgent projects, including major upgrades at 20 hospitals, and this was an important precursor to the HIP programme.
Considerable progress has been made already. Work is due to start soon on the first of these major upgrades, some of the first six new hospitals are approaching early enabling works and the rest have received their seed funding and are rapidly working up their business cases.
We are also focused on improving how we support projects centrally to speed up approvals, bringing additional expertise to bear to support schemes, to make greater use of modern construction methods, and to ensure we build the best possible hospitals. Of course Covid-19 presents a risk, but to date no schemes have reported delays to their projected timelines.
NHS infrastructure is more than just new buildings, and we are investing across the board in the kind of personalised, preventative healthcare that will ensure we have a world-beating healthcare system for years to come.
This means ensuring staff can harness the power of new technologies such as genomics and artificial intelligence to deliver better care and empower people to manage their own health.
As part of this, we have already committed £200m that will benefit over 80 trusts with new state-of-the-art diagnostic machines to drive earlier cancer diagnosis and improve survival rates, and £250m for a new National Artificial Intelligence Lab to use AI to improve the health and lives of patients.
This is only the beginning and these commitments are part of a programme of rolling investment in health infrastructure to support the core of our NHS—our amazing workforce.
At the start of this pandemic the NHS worked with the army and others to create our network of Nightingale hospitals in a matter of weeks. As a result, the capacity of the NHS to provide care has always stayed ahead of patient need.
While they were born out of necessity and are no substitute for the strategic investment plan for our infrastructure that we have put in place in the long-term, the Nightingales demonstrate what our NHS is capable of delivering in order to protect life.
As a country, we have faced a huge challenge, a challenge that has eased but not yet fully gone away. We have met it as individuals and as communities, with resolve and by making very real sacrifices. And we have met it through the tremendous efforts of our NHS and care sector.
As we look towards the future, and ensuring the NHS has the tools it needs to continue to provide world-leading healthcare for many decades to come, we must invest in the infrastructure which underpins it. With our Health Infrastructure Plan, we are doing just that and building new hospitals fit for the future.