Contractors Bovis Lend Lease and Bouygues have been tipped to join Skanska in the bidding race for the £620m Royal London and St Bartholomew's PFI hospitals scheme.
The two firms are thought more likely to bid after health minister John Hutton's decision this week to simplify the contract.

The Department of Health had feared that it might not be able to attract the three bidders required under NHS regulations. Contractors appear to have been deterred by the scale of the scheme, which is the largest PFI project in the UK. At first only Skanska and funder Innisfree formally set up a bidding consortium.

But this week, Hutton announced that a £52m pathology and pharmacy unit to be built at the Royal London hospital had been removed, cutting the expected completion date for the project from 2006 to 2004.

The Department of Health will advertise for a separate contractor for this element.

Partnerships UK director of health David Harrison, who is helping to run procurement for the hospitals, said: "This will get the hospital built two years earlier, which must be attractive to bidders."

This will get the hospital built two years earlier, which must be attractive to bidders

David Harrison, Partnership UK director of health

An advertisement in the European Union's Official Journal inviting expressions of interest from potential bidders is expected on Monday. An advertisement was expected last month, but the Treasury did not agree to the health department's proposal to separate the pathology unit from the main scheme until the end of January.

A source close to the Department of Health hinted that Australian contractor Bovis Lend Lease and French contractor Bouygues were considering bids.

However, one regular bidder for schemes in the health sector said the contractors may still have reservations because of the amount of work the Skanska/Innisfree consortium would have already put into the project.