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Health Secretary Steve Barclay defends Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over claims he blocked RAAC hospital rebuilds, including King’s Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under pressure over fresh claims that he denied funding to rebuild five crumbling hospitals, including Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, while he was chancellor.

It comes after The Guardian reported that Mr Sunak blocked plans to rebuild the hospitals riddled with collapse-prone reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in 2020.

The paper said that only two of seven hospital rebuilding projects backed by the Department for Health were given Treasury approval in the 2020 spending review.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA

Health Secretary and North East Cambridgeshire MP Steve Barclay branded the claim “inaccurate”, but did appear to concede that the remaining five hospitals were only added to a rebuilding programme at a later stage.

Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital was officially added to the Government’s New Hospital Programme in May of this year, following years of campaigning for a new building and a case for the £862m rebuild was put together.

The Government has said that the full extent of the RAAC issues was unknown until an independent report was published by engineering consultants Mott MacDonald last year.

Health Secretary and East Cambridgeshire MP Steve Barclay
Health Secretary and East Cambridgeshire MP Steve Barclay

“What Rishi Sunak as chancellor put in place was a £700 million fund for replacement – that was put in place from 2021,” Mr Barclay told Sky News.

“In fact, we were on this issue early, we were surveying hospitals from 2019 and we’ve been following the Institute for Structural Engineers’ advice, which is that not all RAAC has to be replaced.

“What we need to do is monitor it, assess it, and where there is a concern with deterioration then it does need to be replaced.

“And that’s why a £700 million fund was put in place – two schemes for full replacement of those hospitals were agreed – but further work was then commissioned and a study from (Mott) MacDonald was then commissioned to assess the other five hospitals.

Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital
Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital

“Once we got that information, those schemes have then come into the programme – so a significant investment, specifically in RAAC.”

A spokesman for the Government also said that the claims were “untrue”.

“The funding was not rejected by the Treasury, or the Chancellor and Chief Secretary at the time, and there was an agreement to link these decisions into the wider New Hospitals Programme,” they added.

But opposition parties have called for an explanation from the Prime Minister.

It is the latest funding decision to raise awkward questions for Mr Sunak, after he was accused of having declined a request for funding to rebuild more schools during his time in the Treasury.

Ministers remain under pressure over the issue of RAAC, with concerns about the state of school buildings renewing scrutiny over the presence of the material in other public buildings and infrastructure.

The Lib Dems called the latest news a “disgrace”.

Health spokesperson Daisy Cooper said: “The Prime Minister has put the public’s health and safety at risk for far too long.

“It’s outrageous that the Conservatives have actively ignored this issue for years.

“Rishi Sunak’s fingerprints are all over this concrete crisis. He must come to Parliament and explain why he blocked plans to rebuild crumbling hospitals, putting patients and staff at risk.”

And Rob Colwell, Liberal Democrat borough and county councillor representing Gaywood, said blocking the decision “wasted possible valuable rebuild time” for Lynn’s QEH.

“Rishi Sunak led the Treasury at the 2020 spending review and made an active political decision to deny our crumbling hospital in West Norfolk the rebuild it has now been promised,” he said.

“His delay in this decision has caused several years of worry and concern to local residents. It has wasted possible valuable rebuild time with a 2030 extended best before date fast approaching.

“It has meant hundreds of hours of extra community protests.

“Most unforgivable he has gambled with the lives of patients and staff who will have to continue using the current hospital for more years in a building deemed a “risk to life”. We deserve to know what our local MPs James Wild and Liz Truss knew of this.”

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