Whitehall to standardise documents and expand Procure 21 after contractors warn of hospital delays.
The Department of Health is to speed up the procurement of PFI hospitals by cutting down paperwork on contracts.

The department is in the process of standardising PFI procurement procedures so that NHS trusts will be able to use off-the-shelf documentation instead of drawing up contracts individually.

NHS Estates, the agency responsible for health buildings, also has plans to expand Procure 21, its framework agreement, to cover PFI projects.

The move follows criticism from the Major Contractors Group that the PFI procurement process is long-winded and time-consuming.

John Spanswick, managing director of Bovis Lend Lease Europe, issued a stern warning. He said: "If the government doesn't resolve this issue quickly – in a matter of weeks rather than months – it's likely that none of the new wave of hospitals will be completed before the next election. The only thing I'd ask government to do is make the process more streamlined and shorter."

Peter Coates, head of private finance at the Department of Health, said: "We hear what the Major Contractors Group says on cost and time. We believe the best way to improve the process is to standardise systems as much as possible."

Coates said a standard PFI contract is available and payment mechanisms are expected to follow later this month.

The best way is to standardise systems as much as possible

Peter Coates, head of private finance, Department of Health

Consultant Mott MacDonald is currently drawing up a package of output specifications covering 18 standard criteria, which is expected to be available within six months.

Coates added that up to 80% of the PFI's paperwork will be standardised, saving bidders huge amounts of time and legal expense and making it easier for NHS trusts to procure better buildings.

NHS Estates chief executive Peter Wearmouth said that at present the PFI was taking too long and that a way of reducing bidding time had to be found.

Wearmouth's solution is to use partnering principles, and he said plans were in place to bring the PFI within the scope of existing framework agreements.

He said: "If [the Procure 21 pilot scheme] is successful there's no doubt we'll be looking to roll it out on schemes over £20m."

Currently, Procure 21 is intended to cover PFI projects of less than £20m, which are too small to tender individually.