HEALTH unions yesterday slammed the government’s announcement of six new Private Finance Initiative (PFI) hospital projects costing £1.5 billion.
Not only will the schemes cost the NHS billions, they will have hundreds less beds and half of them will be in private single rooms.
Mike Jackson, UNISON Senior National Officer said: ‘Using PFI to finance these schemes is a waste of taxpayers’ money. PFI schemes are expensive, inflexible and are adding to the current financial burdens of many hospital Trusts.’
The Department of Health (DoH) announcement came as it emerged that at least ten hospitals in England could be facing closure or downgrading.
British Medical Association (BMA) consultants committee deputy chairman, Dr Jonathan Fielden, said: ‘It is ironic that news of these possible closures has emerged on the day we learn that there are to be six new PFI schemes.
‘There are better and cheaper ways to finance improvements.
‘The future of these hospitals is being mortgaged while private providers make profits from the NHS.
‘We are seeing NHS facilities mothballed and closed and dedicated staff being made redundant at a time when private companies are profiting from PFI deals and poorly performing Independent Sector Treatment Centres.
‘This is further evidence of the lack of coherence of government policy. Why strip out assets from the public sector and hand them over to the private sector unless you are determined to privatise the NHS?’
Announcing that Health Minister Andy Burnham had given the go-ahead for the six new PFI schemes, the DoH said: ‘The new facilities, which include hundreds of single rooms, will offer more private and personal care to patients.
‘Up to half of the beds at the new hospitals will be in single rooms, in a shift away from large, public wards to more private and personal accommodation.’
Burnham said: ‘New facilities like these are replacing inadequate and outdated hospitals across the country.’
The new hospital buildings receiving the go-ahead are:
University Hospital North Staffordshire NHS Trust; Tameside and Glossop Acute Services NHS Trust; Salford Royal Hospitals NHS Trust; Walsall Hospitals NHS Trust; South Devon Healthcare NHS Trust; and University Hospitals Leicester NHS Trust.
UNISON added that the move ‘will prove a costly error’. Senior National Officer Jackson added: ‘Time and time again PFI companies milk these projects through overcharging, and lucrative refinancing deals.
‘These new hospital schemes could and should be paid for by much cheaper public sector borrowing.’
One of the hospitals whose services are ‘under review’ is London’s North Middlesex hospital.
Consultant surgeon at the hospital, Mrs Anna Athow said yesterday: ‘It’s disgraceful that the government is proceeding with these massively expensive PFI projects.
‘It’s just handing government money to the private bosses while at the same time forcing closures and downgrading at ten major hospitals.
‘The health unions should immediately call a Day of Action to stop this, and call on the TUC for national industrial action to defend the NHS.
‘There must be a huge lobby of the TUC Congress in Brighton on September 11th.’
Sister Jay, also from North Middlesex, added: ‘18,000 nurses are losing their jobs. The RCN must organise industrial action, together with other unions.
‘If services are closed patients and communities will suffer.’
l Hundreds of hospital staff in Cornwall are preparing for action to stop redundancies, as their cash-strapped NHS trust plans to outsource their work.
UNISON is to ballot members for strike action in protest at the decision by the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust to send typing work abroad.