Did the EU misspend enough money to build 10 new hospitals?

Published: 15th Jun 2015

 According to the European Court of Auditors, €7 billion of the 2013 budget was misspent. Enough to build 10 state-of-the-art NHS hospitals.

Daniel Hannan MEP, 10 June 2015

The European Union, like all public bodies, attracts regular criticism over how it uses public funds. Sometimes, the criticism comes from within.

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) is an EU body set up to examine the accounts of the Union. In 2013, the ECA found that 4.7% of the €149 billion spent by the EU wasn't spent according to the rules.

The ECA says that this isn't necessarily money that was wasted. For example, one way to run afoul of the rules is to give contracts directly without holding a proper bidding process. While generally this is a bad idea, it's not always the case that another firm would have been able to put in a lower bid. Other errors came when money was spent without meeting the criteria necessary for spending it.

The ECA doesn't class this as waste, as the funds might have had "some positive impact... even though they did not fully respect the conditions related to their use". As they also point out, just following the rules doesn't mean that EU spending won't be wasteful.

The marginal hospital

A shade under €7 billion for 10 hospitals seemed a little high to us; at average exchange rates, that was a shade under £6 billion in 2013.

We got in touch with Mr Hannan's office, who told us that this was based on the cost of the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. This is commonly listed as having cost £545 million to build, and opened in 2010.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital is the UK's "largest single-site hospital", treats all seriously injured British troops evacuated from overseas, and says it hosts Europe's largest single Critical Care Unit.

It's state of the art, but is probably at the pricey end of the spectrum. The Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital cost £75 million to build, or £90 million including equipment and infrastructure.

It is undoubtedly state of the art, but has a strictly defined purpose and is much, much smaller than the Birmingham beast.

At that price, Mr Hannan would be able to get 66 hospitals out of the EU's misspent funds.

Hospitals cater to different populations, and host different facilities. It's hard to visualise an 'average' hospital. An alternative perspective would be that the amount misspent in 2013 was equivalent to about one pound in every nineteen spent by the NHS in 2013/14.


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