Varying degrees of success for health initiatives

Prime Minister David Cameron during his recent visit to St James University Hospital, Leeds, where he chatted to Dr Candice Downey and Dr Jonny Grek in facilities built through PFI.
Prime Minister David Cameron during his recent visit to St James University Hospital, Leeds, where he chatted to Dr Candice Downey and Dr Jonny Grek in facilities built through PFI.
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MANY of Yorkshire’s newest NHS facilities have been built using PFI deals – some more successfully than others.

Prime Minister David Cameron was in Leeds last week to visit St James’s Hospital’s gleaming £220m cancer care unit, which opened several years ago and treats patients from across the region.

Bosses at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust say the project has suffered from neither the excess costs nor the inflexibility which have plagued many other PFI schemes within the NHS.

“The funding for this scheme was actually provided to our private partner by the Government itself,” said finance director Neil Chapman. “So the problems related to the high cost of borrowing do not really apply here.

“And because it’s only one wing of a larger hospital, we can be flexible with it ourselves. As the call for type of cancer patient reduces, another one increases – and we can make the necessary changes. There’s no additional cost.”

Mr Chapman succinctly explained the problems other PFI projects have been having in the NHS, however.

“If we had been building the whole of St James’s Hospital or the whole of Leeds General Infirmary it would have been quite different,” he said. “Then it really is a case of ‘how good is your planning?’

“It’s an awful stretch to know how many wards you will need for the next 30 years; how many outpatients spaces you’re going to need and so on. That’s a big shout.

“With these private contracts, if you want to make those sorts of big changes outside of your contract further down the line, it’s going to cost you a fortune. You’re asking the private contractor to redesign their building – you would not want to be at the wrong end of that sort of deal. It would be a much bigger cost using PFI.”

Just down the road at Wakefield’s new Pinderfields Hospital, bosses appear to be scrambling to avoid that precise problem.

Pinderfields also opened several years ago via a huge PFI scheme – but already is facing criticism that it is too small.