Private sector to finance building of 11 new hospitals

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The Independent Online
ELEVEN new NHS hospitals are to be built by private companies, a health minister is expected to announce today.

Alan Milburn, Minister of State for Health, will give details of a pounds 1bn Private Finance Initiative programme in which firms will build the hospitals and then lease them back to the Government over a 25-year period.

A report last night said the work was expected to begin in 2000 and to be completed two years later.

Among the biggest of the projects will be the complete rebuilding of the West Middlesex Hospital in London at a cost of pounds 40m. The hospital has to use electric ambulances to ferry patients a mile between wards and operating theatres.

The hospital was one of a number pencilled in for privately-financed development under the Conservatives, but the work did not proceed.

The new proposals will be in addition to 12 new building projects announced last July, costing pounds 1.3bn.

They will be built under a similar lease-back scheme. Between them, the two tranches of building work will easily amount to the biggest capital programme in the history of the National Health Service.

The earlier scheme included three new hospitals near Tony Blair's Sedgefield constituency, in North Durham, Bishop Auckland and South Tees. Only two hospitals had been built in the North-east in the past 20 years.

Today's announcement will include schemes which failed to meet government criteria last summer. The new building is expected to take place in most regions of the country, and to benefit many thousands of patients.

A senior source was quoted last night as saying: "You can't run a 21st century health service in hospitals built in the 19th century."

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