‘Direct government investment is by far the cheapest and best way to build new hospitals,’ said a UNISON spokeswoman yesterday, in response to the crisis at the Royal London and Bart’s hospitals.
One thousand doctors have appealed directly to prime minister Blair to allow a £1.1 billion PFI project, to rebuild the London and part of Bart’s, to go ahead.
In an open letter published in The Times, the doctors warn that allowing the scheme to ‘collapse’ would be a ‘cruel injustice’ to the people of east London.
The signatories claim the prime minister gave a personal commitment to the redevelopment in 1998, reversing years of indecision over the fate of the two hospitals.
The Department of Health (DoH) ordered a further review last December in the face of the project’s soaring costs.
The UNISON spokeswoman added: ‘We are absolutely opposed to the private finance initiative.
‘Trusts are tied into 30 year contracts. They start off with schemes and don’t realise just how much money has to be poured into them.
‘A lot of people have a finger in the PFI pie. A lot of money goes on the plumbing, into consultants’, contractors’ and financiers’ pockets, leaving not much over for patient care.
‘We’ve seen failure after failure with shoddy school and hospital buildings, with pupils and patients having to suffer.’
The doctors’ letter points out that the hospitals serve ‘some of the most ethnically diverse and deprived (people) in the country’ who deserve the state-of-the-art facilities the project would provide.
It also warns that without these hospitals, London’s ability to cope with another serious terrorist incident must be in doubt.
The Royal London and Bart’s treated 200 victims of the July 7th bombings.
Bart’s consultant cardiologist Dr Duncan Dymond told News Line: ‘This has been going on for eight years.
‘After Tony Blair decided he would approve the saving of Bart’s, both Bart’s and the London were packaged into the PFI scheme. The fates of Bart’s and the London are totally interdependent.
‘The DoH has told the trust to look at the Bart’s end and see whether it’s affordable.
‘The point is, without the Bart’s end there won’t be a world-class cardiac and cancer unit in the whole trust.
‘The plan has been going since 1998, to pull the plug at this late stage will be terrible for the people of east London.
‘There are three-quarters of a million people in Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham who rely on Bart’s and the London, some of the most deprived communities in London.’
The doctors, including 450 consultants and professors, say the decision to review the provision of cancer and cardiac services would seriously affect trauma and emergency care facilities.
Their letter says: ‘The loss of any of these services would be damaging to the health of this vulnerable population and irretrievably damage our medical school.’
The contract with private partner Skanska lapses at the end of January.
The Royal London and Bart’s is not the only trust hit by PFI costs.
The government is having to consider scaling back or scrapping about ten big PFI schemes, including ones at Bristol, Liverpool and Newcastle, over runaway costs which threaten to bankrupt trusts.