PFI: still toxic

3 July 2012 If anyone dared hope the hysteria around PFI had come to an end, the events at South London NHS Trust will have brought them down to earth
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The debate surrounding PFI has jumped right back to the top of the political agenda following the revelation that the South London NHS Trust is effectively bankrupt.

With the publication of a report into making operational savings in PFI contracts published last summer, and a review of the model currently underway, the public mauling of the procurement method had abated somewhat.

But with the latest scandal on the state of NHS finances came the news that – shock horror – some of the trust’s estate included PFIs. Former Tory Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell went as far as to say that some PFIs are “indefensible” when reacting to the news.

Well, without wanting to defend the indefensible, what I will say is that, to read much of the commentary on this issue you might think the evil private sector managed to sign this deal without the NHS trust’s knowledge. It could be easy to think that the problem has only just emerged, that the trust has suddenly opened its purse to find someone has been pilfering from it over the last decade.

The fact that the PFI contract has actually given the trust certainty as to what it will be paying for its buildings for 30 years – and therefore should surely have budgeted accordingly – does not seem to be a popular line of argument.

Attacking PFI, of course, has provided a nice way around current Health Secretary Andrew Lansley having to explain a policy that allows trusts to go bust – and exactly what that will mean for patient care in practice.

Either way, what this mess demonstrates is the fact that the government’s review of PFI will continue to suffer bad press if it is not handled properly – and with the right approach to the press, still baying for PFI blood.

Interestingly, Tory backbencher and sometime PFI rebate campaigner Jesse Norman was lucky enough to get a question in to David Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions as the NHS storm swirled. But rather than use his question to highlight PFI’s wrongs, he chose another topic altogether: the SAS’s role in the battle of Mirbat in Oman.

It seems Norman may have lost interest in PFI-bashing. But the damage done by him and senior ministers in the loss of trust among the public in private sector investment in public infrastructure will be hard to repair.

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This page was last updated on:
3 July 2012.

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PFI: still toxic

If anyone dared hope the hysteria around PFI had come to an end, the events at South London NHS Trust will have brought them down to earth

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