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UNISON launches attack on 'shoddy' PFI hospital designs

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Public-sector trade union UNISON has launched a fresh offensive against the 'failure of design' in PFIprocured hospitals. Its report, The PFI Experience:

Voices from the Frontline, criticises several recently completed hospitals but picks out Anshen Dyer Architects' £229 million Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital for particular condemnation.

It concludes that the PFI initiative fails to offer 'design value for money' and leads to cost-cutting 'throughout architecture and construction'.

The report quotes an administration worker at the Norfolk and Norwich who described the 'whole set-up as a complete mess'.

'They claimed they consulted the staff over the design of the new hospital, ' the worker told researchers. 'If they did, they certainly didn't ask the correct staff: the ones working there. If they were consulted, they were completely ignored.'

The report also condemns design standards on other PFI hospitals, including Llewelyn-Davies' £65 million Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle. A nurse there told UNISON that the reception was 'unusable', calling it 'a cross between a prison and an airport'. RTKL's £116 million Worcestershire Acute Hospital and WS Atkins' £65 million acute hospital in Hereford also come in for criticism.

UNISON officer Jane Robinson said the report represents a real effort by the union to highlight the 'failure of PFI design'. 'We want an independent inquiry into every aspect of the procurement method, ' she told the AJ. 'We believe PFI represents, in design terms, the triumph of style over substance. If the buildings we assessed had been built using an alternative procurement method, they would have been better hospitals.'

The Department of Health rebuffed the criticism, insisting most PFI hospitals are 'up to scratch'.

'Any problems in design or construction, bed numbers, workload or capacity have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that a hospital has been funded under PFI, ' a spokeswoman said.

'UNISON's attempts to discredit PFI are increasingly flying in the face of the evidence from independent sources, such as the National Audit Office, ' she added. 'All PFI hospitals are being delivered at value for money for the NHS'.

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