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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April, 2003, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Anger at 200m PFI hospital plan
Newcastle General
Services from Newcastle General Hospital will be transferred
Union leaders have criticised a 200m plan to overhaul a city's hospital facilities, which will have to be paid back to private investors over 35 years.

Health chiefs want to transfer all major facilities from Newcastle General Hospital to new purpose-built units elsewhere.

The money for the hospital is to be paid back by Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust over the next 35 years as part of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).

But union leaders say the move means "mortgaging the future" and they fear funds will go into shareholder profits rather than the NHS.

The move is expected to create up to 2,000 temporary construction jobs over the next four years and will affect 1,000 staff currently based at Newcastle General Hospital.

But a spokeswoman for the trust said there would be no job cuts and staff would instead be transferred to the city's Freeman Hospital and Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) sites.

Newcastle General's accident and emergency unit and back-up specialities are to go to the RVI, which will also host specialist children's services for the region plus new neuroscience and infectious disease facilities.

The question is how much you pay for it and how you pay for it
Liz Twist, Unison

Cancer and renal facilities are to go to the Freeman.

A consortium including North Tyneside-based facilities management firm M&W Sander and construction firm Laing O'Rourke are the "preferred bidder" for the PFI scheme.

The Equion consortium is to compete against an alternative public sector option for the tender to construct the new buildings and a final decision is to be made before the end of 2003.

Liz Twist of the public sector union Unison, said: "Everybody is pleased when there are new hospitals and improved facilities.

"The question is how much you pay for it and how you pay for it.

"We are effectively mortgaging our future.

"The major issue for us is that it costs more to borrow through the private sector than it does through the public sector.

"What I want to see is money for the NHS to go into improved services and not into shareholders' profits."

'Serious concerns'

She also criticised the method for comparing private and public sector bids as being unfairly skewed in favour of private bids.

Previous PFI hospital projects in Durham and Carlisle have resulted in reduced bed numbers and she said she hoped this would not happen here.

Ms Twist said: "We sincerely hope Newcastle has learnt the lesson of other PFI projects because we still have some really serious concerns about the development."

Trust chairman Sir Miles Irving said: "It has been a long process to get to this point and now we can begin to see our vision turned into bricks and mortar.

"The new buildings will be a credit to the NHS and the local environment and we believe shall be admired for generations to come."

If given the go-ahead the project is expected to be completed by 2007.



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