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The New Hospital Programme is a hugely ambitious project – and one which is requiring a fair bit of external support to carry out.

It has now advertised for its largest consultancy contract yet: NHS England is looking for a delivery partner to support the programme until the end of the decade, and potentially longer.

The team is planning to spend up to £600m for this over the next six years. This makes up most of the £900m estimated need for consultancies until 2030-2031, as we previously reported.

The NHP team says the partner will augment its capabilities and be critical to its success.

But what exactly will this partner do? According to the notice, it will help “accelerate delivery” and “unlock efficiencies” along with other aims.

Major projects do often end up relying on external support, but these costs may raise eyebrows at trusts currently working with smaller budgets for new hospitals than they might have hoped.

Earlier this year, the government’s spending watchdog said the programme needed significant external support, which explained the delivery partner model. But it said a reliance on consultancies also risked “a lack of continuity and loss of knowledge”.

The maternity muddle

Trust leaders have criticised a widespread lack of clarity on maternity safety measures, with the chair of a major NHS provider warning that organisations managing such services are hamstrung by a lack of clear standards and direction from government and regulators.

Gillian Norton, who chairs St George’s, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals and Health Group, told its board that “the challenge of defining a safe service” in maternity was worsened because there is “no nationally agreed set of metrics by which to measure the performance of services”.

Her comments were echoed by several more leaders and by Kathy Thomson, the retiring chief executive of Liverpool Women’s Foundation Trust, telling HSJ that a major overhaul of regulation and oversight of maternity care was needed.

She warned that trust leaders were confused about what was expected of their stewardship of maternity services. Much of the increased scrutiny of the sector was coming from people with little knowledge and experience of maternity care. NHS Providers also called for ministers to act on confusing rules and regulations.

Maternity services have come under intense scrutiny since the Ockenden investigations into failures in Shropshire, and a string of failings exposed at East Kent, Nottingham and Morecambe Bay.

Also on today

Ahead of World AIDS Day, James Cole highlights key opportunities for integrated care systems to tackle inequalities, and NHSE has sought to quell concerns from GPs around “advice and guidance” by saying it will not be mandated before referrals.