The Tories have officially backed a controversial report which critics fear could lead to the biggest sell-off of NHS property in history.
The Naylor Report recommended selling around £2billion of “surplus land” owned by the health service to build 26,000 homes.
It attracted grave concern from campaigners when Theresa May suggested she would back it last summer.
And today, health minister Lord O’Shaughnessy gave the report the official government seal of approval.
Nearly a year on from its publication, the Tory peer said today: “The Government welcomes the review and its recommendations, which we will implement in conjunction with national partners and the NHS.”
The announcement came just hours after it was revealed bungling Ministry of Defence chiefs have lost billions of pounds in a disastrous property deal by selling off thousands of homes – then renting them back from the buyer.
The MoD sold 55,000 married quarters at rock bottom prices for £1.66billion in 1996, wrongly believing the property market would not rise.
But it has lost up to £4.2billion over the following years in assets because property prices did go up.
What is the Naylor Report?
It is a 46-page report published on March 31 by Sir Robert Naylor, former boss of the NHS trust that runs University College London Hospital.
Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt asked him to look independently at what should be done with ‘surplus’ NHS property and crumbling old buildings.
Now, in the main bit of Sir Robert’s dossier, he recommends selling around £2billion of NHS land to build 26,000 homes. This could hit £5billion if extended to “high-value” sites in London.
This could equal 5 million square metres of NHS estate – more than three times the size of London’s Hyde Park. Ideas in the report include selling part of car parks and making the other part multi-storey.
The report suggests getting rid of inefficient buildings will let the NHS save £500million a year in maintenance and fund backlogged repairs, currently worth about £5billion.
NHS land is controlled by publicly-owned firm NHS Property Services Ltd since the Tories’ last controversial shake-up – the Health and Social Care Act. New homes would be prioritised for NHS staff.
Why is it controversial?
Hospitals that don’t sell land will be punished
Providers that fail to draw up “sufficiently stretching plans… should not be granted access to capital funding,” the report says.
That means building and repair projects face being strangled off if they don’t flog some of their land.
And they’ll be ‘bribed’ to sell up fast
The report calls for “urgent action to accelerate” land sales.
So hospitals will get a “2-for-1 offer” – meaning if a hospital gets a sale, the government steps in and doubles the cash.
This bonus money would be paid to the hospitals – not to private developers – supposedly to finance building projects.
But the cash will be offered on a “first come first served basis” for a limited time, probably five years.
This has sparked fears of hospitals selling off land to private developers cheaply, or in a badly thought-through way, in their rush to get the funds.
Campaigners say it’s a “bribe” to shed NHS assets quickly.
Hospitals are so starved of cash, they have little choice
“The general consensus is that the current NHS capital investment is insufficient to fund transformation and maintain the current estate,” the report says.
Critics fear land that isn’t truly ‘surplus’ will be sold
Deborah Harrington, of the National Health Action Party, claimed: “It’s simply not true that all of this land and all of these buildings are surplus to requirements. The truth is that this is the biggest ever drive to sell off the assets of the NHS in its history.”
Campaigners fear it’s a blueprint to ‘sell off the NHS’
Dr Kailash Chand, the former deputy chair of the British Medical Association, branded the Naylor Report “an outline to sell off the NHS.”
He added: “Hospitals, clinics and other NHS property are squarely in the sights of the purchasers.
“Theresa May has given us a huge clue as to how her government would finance ‘improvements’ to NHS services, and they’re absolutely scandalous.”
It’s all tied to a £22bn cutbacks drive
The plan is to be developed “through local Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs).” These are the controversial blueprints, opposed by Labour, to deliver £22billion of “efficiency savings” and even plan to downgrade some A&Es.
And finally… where we are now is blamed on NHS shake-ups and privatisation
There’s a particularly revealing passage in the report.
It says: “Those with long memories will recollect that the various estate functions, particularly building and engineering were well represented at the senior levels of regional, area and district health authorities during much of the history of the NHS.
“Successive reorganisations of the NHS have seriously eroded these capabilities to the extent that they hardly exist today.
“This has resulted in substantial reliance on external advice and serious deficiencies in strategic estate planning.
“Continuous reform has eroded estates capabilities and increased reliance on the private sector.”
So what do supporters say?
Nigel Edwards, of health think tank The Nuffield Trust, said the NHS has “a lot of money tied up in land and buildings”.
He told The Independent: “Poor use of the estate can make being cared for a frustrating and uncomfortable experience for patients.
“Selling or generating income from surplus property no longer needed for patient care creates funds that can be invested to improve services.
“So the proposals under consideration, if done well, should help, not hinder the NHS in caring for more patients.”
What do Labour say?
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: “Under the Tories hospitals are crumbling.
“The Tory response is to now sell off buildings and land with no explanation of when the NHS will see a penny piece of the proceeds.”
What do the government say?
Lord O’Shaughnessy said: “In March 2017, Sir Robert Naylor published his independent review, NHS Property and Estates: Why the estate matters for patients .
“It highlighted not just the scale of the challenge we face in ensuring that the NHS has both the buildings and equipment that it needs, but also the scale of the opportunity open to us.
“It set out how, by taking a more strategic approach, the NHS can generate money to reinvest in new or updated premises and in better patient care.
“Unused land can be released for much-needed housing, driving regeneration and creating jobs. Using healthcare buildings more efficiently can reduce running costs and deliver more integrated care.”