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New Hospital Programme admits 50% vacancy rate amid recruitment problems

Published on: 16 Apr 2024

The New Hospital Programme team has faced issues recruiting to internal roles and recently had a 50 per cent vacancy rate, the government has admitted.

Around two-thirds of its workforce were outsourced at the end of last year, according to a letter sent to MPs. This was a similar workforce split to the previous year.  

Department of Health and Social Care official Shona Dunn said the programme planned to spend more than £800m on “external specialist expertise” in the seven years until 2030-2031. She said this would be around 4 per cent of total expenditure. 

Her letter comes after HSJ revealed the NHP had failed to find a replacement for departing chief Natalie Forrest. Another top official has also recently announced he would be stepping down

The team is responsible for building 40 “new hospitals” by the end of the decade, as well as a promised rolling programme of capital investment beyond this date.

It has faced scrutiny over its use of consultants, with MPs asking officials to share plans to improve civil service capacity for hospital construction last year. 

The government shared details of the NHP workforce in its response last month. This revealed the NHP had nearly the same amount of vacancies as it did in-house staff at the end of last year. 

The letter revealed plans to recruit up to 279 full-time establishment roles in 2023-2024. However more than 131 vacancies remained in December 2023.

At the same time, there were 293 outsourced staff working on the progamme. HSJ  invited DHSC to share more recent figures but had not received a response on publication.

Shona Dunn, DHSC second permanent secretary, said in the letter: “Enabling the programme to move forward at the same time as recruiting to permanent posts has inevitably involved external resource to fill resource gaps.”

She said the programme had experienced the same issues “recruiting appropriate individuals to internal roles” faced by other major government projects, and internal recruitment was expected to increase as the programme matured. She said other action was being taken to speed it up. 

Ms Dunn said the NHP had spent £61m on external expertise between April and November last year which was 84 per cent of total day-to-day spend. 

HSJ  revealed last year the NHP had previously suggested spending £900m on external consultants  in total.