A £29-billion investment in hospitals, health centres and equipment has been a major factor in advancing patient care, says a fresh assessment of the National Health Service’s estate.

According to the Department of Health’s report Rebuilding the NHS, much of the Service’s skeleton has been modernised in the last 10 years alone, with just 20% of its “bricks and mortar” outdating the NHS itself compared to 50% in 1997. And without this substantial injection of cash, it says, the Service would have “lacked the state-of-the-art facilities and equipment required to slash waiting times, and reduce deaths from cancer and heart disease.”

Out of this investment, £4.9 billion has been sunk into building 88 major hospital schemes since 1997, and another 24, worth £4.6 billion, are under construction, with 111 scheduled to open their doors in 2010.

Furthermore, the report says, 2,848 GP premises have been refurbished or replaced and 674 one-stop primary care centres have opened, helping to cut waiting time to see a local doctor. In addition, more than 1,300 pieces of the most modern cancer diagnostics and treatment kit have been added since April 2000, and marking an impressive achievement, 99% of patients with suspected cancer are seen by a specialist within two weeks of GP referral, compared to jus 63% in 1997.

A new era

"Ten years ago the NHS was in dire need of a facelift,” commented Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt. “It's thanks to this massive investment that we have been able to lift the NHS out of the Victorian era and into the 21st Century.”

"But this report is about much more than bricks and mortar,” she added. “The huge increase in new NHS buildings and state-of-the art equipment means that patients are being treated faster than ever before. This is helping NHS staff to reach the 18-week waiting target by the end of 2008, a fantastic goal to celebrate in the NHS's 60th anniversary year.”

And the capital investment in the NHS looks set to continue, with £7 billion worth of major hospital projects in the cooking pot, according to the report.