Six new privately-funded hospitals to be developed
Hundreds of single rooms are to be created in six new hospitals funded by the controversial private finance initiative (PFI).
Health minister Andy Burnham has approved the building developments, which in total will cost £1.5 billion, and the first new hospitals are expected to be open from 2010.
Announcing the new hospitals, Mr Burnham said that they will offer private and more personal care to patients. Rather than large, public wards, up to half of the beds at the new hospitals will be in single rooms.
South Devon healthcare NHS trust will provide separate nursing bays for men and women as part of the £163 million redevelopment of Torbay hospital. Teign MP Richard Younger-Ross said that it was a shame that PFI funding had been preferred over government funding but added that the investment was "great news" for future healthcare in south Devon.
New and refurbished buildings across three hospital sites will be created in Leicester, while hospitals will be built or improved in Tameside and Glossop, Salford, Walsall and north Staffordshire.
However the plans have drawn criticism due to reports that financial pressures are forcing some hospitals to be scaled down and potentially even closed.
Unison, the UK's largest union, has warned that using PFI will prove to be a "costly error". Although it has welcomed the news that patients will benefit from new surroundings and single rooms, it is seeking assurances that the rooms will be allocated on a clinical rather than financial grounds.
Mike Jackson, Unison's senior national officer, warned that PFI is "fundamentally flawed".
"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," he said.
"For example, the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Greenwich is facing insolvency because, according to the auditors, PFI is costing an additional £9 million per year compared with conventional procurement. That is taxpayers' money and with many other PFI hospitals facing similar financial difficulties - it makes no sense for the government to keep going down this discredited route."
He added that the union has concerns with PFI as it ties the hospitals into 30-year contracts.
However the health minister has defended the use of PFI and said that it does offer value for money.
"The PFI's different in that we don't just get use of a building, there is obviously all of the support services that are provided too to ensure that that building is fit for use by the National Health Service," Mr Burnham told the Today programme.
"I would argue again that that's one of the main benefits of this way of funding a new hospital building. It means that the NHS can stop worrying about repairing broken windowpanes and light bulbs and get on with the job of providing patient care."