Commission wants NHS trusts to appoint champions to oversee quality in the second wave of schemes.
The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment is proposing that PFI hospitals are assigned individual champions to oversee quality in all future projects.

The commission says the champions, who would be drawn from NHS trusts, would maintain quality control throughout the hospitals' design and construction.

The move follows concerns raised by CABE about the design of the first wave of hospital projects, including current plans for the £225m scheme for University College, London.

CABE head of public affairs Stephen King said it was vital that good design was an intrinsic part of the second wave of schemes.

He said: "There is a very large building programme in the pipeline. We really do need to get this lot right. There is still a tendency within trusts at the end of the PFI process to go back to the lowest bid."

King said there was a need for the design champion to rein in contractors' influence over the projects. "At building stage, there is a lot of impetus to get it completed as quickly as possible so the revenue streams are up and running. We want someone there who will not allow the contractor to cut corners."

Better design will also make hospitals more financially efficient, said King. For example, some configurations of wards require fewer nurses to walk them.

He added that better design would lead to improved patient care, which would in turn improve efficiency. King cited recent research at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital that found good design could reduce patient stress, and thereby shorten their stay in hospital. He said: "It's not only a benefit to the well-being of patients but it's a big saving for the NHS."

King stressed that CABE was making good progress in getting its design message over to NHS property arm, NHS Estates.

CABE and the NHS are expected to make a joint announcement on the proposal early next year.

The commission has already met the Department of Health's design champion, public health minister Yvette Cooper, to stress the benefits of increasing the priority of design.

Prime minister Tony Blair announced at October's Downing Street reception that ministerial design champions would have the power to halt the construction of poorly designed public buildings.