The Department of Health and Social Care has appointed a registered nurse who is chief executive of a north London hospital to oversee plans to fund new facilities at 40 hospitals in England by the start of the next decade.
Natalie Forrest, who is currently chief executive of Chase Farm Hospital, also led the construction and commissioning of NHS Nightingale London for the National Health Service as part of the immediate response to the coronavirus pandemic last year.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said Forrest was uniquely equipped to be senior responsible owner for the New Hospital Programme.
DHSC attracted criticism in 2019 for the claim that it would fund 40 new hospitals by 2030, as it later emerged many of the projects being funded were extensions or rebuilds of existing buildings, or extra facilities at existing hospitals. It was also criticised for saying the initial commitment of £1.7bn was "new money", as around £1bn came from cash reserves hospitals had earned by making efficiencies.
Since that announcement, the government has committed an extra £2bn to the programme. A further eight schemes are expected to be added to the programme for construction by 2030.
Hancock said Forrest “not only brings unrivalled experience in health management and nursing, but also the construction and project management knowledge that helped turn the Excel conference centre into a Nightingale Hospital in just nine days, as well as overseeing the rebuild of Chase Farm Hospital at pace".
Starting this month, Forrest will oversee a delivery board across DHSC, NHS England and NHS Improvement that will work closely with a network of NHS trusts.
DHSC said the New Hospital Programme would help develop new sustainability standards, planning capabilities and care and workforce models within the government’s long-term health infrastructure plan.
Forrest said she was “determined” to build trust in England’s national capability in planning and delivering hospitals.
“My goal will be to deliver these new hospitals cost-effectively and at speed, and to foster an ecosystem that owns, learns from and improves healthcare design,” she said.
Last month, infrastructure specialist Emma-Jane Houghton took up her post as the Cabinet Office’s commercial director responsible for the New Hospital Programme.
Houghton previously worked for the army’s engineering advisory group and is a former commercial delivery director at Heathrow Airport.