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Leaked report shows PFI failings

Newham's new mental health unit has been hailed as a case study in the pitfalls of PFI, after a leaked report into the construction of the project revealed a catalogue of problems.

The £12.5 million facility, designed by healthcare specialist Baily Garner in a design and build contract for contractor Grosvenor House Group, was completed in July 2002, three months behind schedule.

According to the post project evaluation report prepared by independent management consultant Hornagold & Hills, the project was beset by design problems.

'The original design made no allowance for the provision of administrative offices, ' the report states. 'The result is that offices have been fisqueezed infl, with consequent compromises in the design.'

Other problems reported include leaks in the roof that occurred until late in the construction process, and standard windows - installed by the contractor in place of the bespoke windows specified - that were inappropriate for use in a mental health unit.

Hornagold & Hills also found that 'once construction commenced, the architect was employed by the D & C contractor who severely restricted their access to the working design, much of which was prepared by the specialist subcontractors installing the works.

'While this approach is not unusual, it is usual to arrange for the architect to check design by firms for compliance with the original design intent; this does not appear to have happened in this instance.'

The report also stated that, although a consultation process did take place in the early stages, revisions were later made without being referred back to consultees.

Graham Mills, director of capital development at the East London and City Mental Health NHS Trust, blamed the problems on a series of 'communication failures'.

'There are always issues during the construction process on projects such as this, ' he said. 'It's down to the fragmentation of the industry and how much the architect is involved with the subcontractor as the design develops.'

But he added that 'all issues in the report have been resolved in design terms'. Lessons had been learned, he said, and in future the trust will strive for greater involvement by the design team throughout the length of the project up to completion.

However, John Lister from pressure group London Health Emergency, who was posted the leaked report anonymously, damned the project as a 'classic cock-up from start to finish'.

'NHS chiefs at Barts and the London Hospitals Trust are going into the final stage of negotiations on the country's biggest-ever hospital scheme to be funded through PFI. If they forge ahead and do not learn the lessons of the Newham fiasco we can expect even bigger and more costly blunders, ' he warned.

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