NHS Estates set to impose curbs because of concern that consultants could possess unfair knowledge of costs.
Architects and quantity surveyors advising NHS trusts on PFI projects will be forbidden from joining consortiums bidding for the schemes, under proposals to be announced next month.

The decision to introduce this curb comes after claims that practices acting as advisers have an unfair advantage, as they possess more cost and client information than their rivals.

European regulations stipulate that an architect or QS advising a trust on the cost of a PFI scheme must stop acting as a consultant before it joins a bidding team.

Peter Wearmouth, acting chief executive of NHS Estates, said: "There's a grey area. A consultant may know that it is going to bid, or be courted by a consortium, while it is still advising the trust. Common sense dictates that you should break that link."

Under Treasury guidelines introduced last year, PFI health bidders are forbidden from seeing the public sector comparator for a project. The comparator is the yardstick for assessing whether a bid is good value for money.

Wearmouth said bidders that had previously advised on a scheme would have some knowledge of its likely cost and could therefore be said to have broken that rule.

He said: "There's a recent case where an organisation did some work before an Official Journal advertisement was issued, so it had more details of the client's needs than other bidders."

The decision has received a cool response from the industry. Mike Nightingale, senior partner at specialist PFI health architect Nightingale Associates, said it was unclear whether practices would be barred if they advised trusts on elements of a scheme not linked to the public sector comparator.

He said: "It needs to be very clearly defined which pieces of consultancy work would exclude architects. Hopefully, it wouldn't include some of the early advisory work."

The proposed curb is one recommendation to come from a review of the successes and failures of the first wave of PFI hospitals by NHS Estates and architectural watchdog CABE.

The guidance based on this report is expected to incorporate a framework agreement with CABE in which design guidance for bidders will be included with proposals for five hospitals. This idea, known as a design exemplar, has been piloted on a project in Walsall, West Midlands.