NHS boss dubs PFI 'Alice in Wonderland stuff'

Head of Barts and Royal London scheme slams the Treasury's accounting

AN NHS chief has slammed the Treasu ry's Pr ivate Finance In it iative ? despite being in charge of the £1.2 billion Barts and Royal London PFI scheme.

The North East London Strategic Health Authority approved the business case for the Barts and Royal London hospitals redevelopment on Tuesday.

The approval means preferred bidder Skanska is a step closer to reaching financial close on the scheme, which is worth £4.6 billion over 40 years.

But the chairman of Barts and The London NHS Trust, Dr John Ashworth, attacked the Treasury and its use of PFI despite his organisation embarking on the country's biggest PFI hospital deal and the project still needing Treasury approval.

Speaking to a Save Barts campaigner, he said: 'The Treasury ought to call PFI back but that would put it back on the balance sheet.

'If this was the private sector you'd be in jail. This is what got Enron into trouble ? it's all off the balance sheet. It's cloud cuckoo land, Alice in Wonderland stuff.' Dr Ashworth's views will infuriate Whitehall, where he once served as chief scientist and advised Prime Ministers Jim Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher.

When asked about the comments Dr Ashworth said: 'I was expressing a personal view about the PFI process and this in no way ref lects the trust's view.

'I fully support the redevelopment of Barts Hospital and The Royal London Hospital, which is much needed and will deliver world class clinical facilities for the people of east London and beyond.' Along with Treasury approval the scheme still needs to be passed by the Department of Health before financial close. But documents presented at the Tuesday meeting show that there are still many issues to be resolved.

Wendy Mead , cha i rman of the Save Barts campaign, said: 'I'm not surprised it was passed. London's health authorities are going to be restructured in a couple of years and those who passed the business case won't be here to take responsibility.' The remaining hurdles include resolving a row with neighbour Merrill Lynch over planning issues, finalising construction access to the site and reaching Government energy targets for the new buildings.

n See Agenda, pages 12-13

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