The UK's leading PFI healthcare architects are being forced to look overseas and to other sectors as UK public spending dries up.

Architect Nightingale Associates, which is currently awaiting financial close on the delayed £381m Peterborough hospital, has just secured its first retail sector project in Dubai on the 650 ha Festival City scheme.

The move comes after the government announced a dramatic slowdown in spending on big PFI hospitals from £12bn to £7bn, to put more emphasis on community healthcare (see below).

Mike Nightingale, chairman of Nightingale Associates, said he no longer felt sure that the UK health market could sustain his firm. He said: "The government is sending a mixed message on its investment in health so we have to cast our net wider. We're looking at eastern Europe, China, the Middle East and also the Celtic fringe. And we're looking to use our South African office to get into the Australian market."

Architect Anshen Dyer, which has in hand six PFI health schemes worth £950m, last month won its first education scheme - a £400m Building Schools for the Future programme in Bradford. The firm is also looking abroad for big health schemes. John Cooper, a director, said: "We have been looking at projects in Northern Ireland, Sweden, Italy, Norway and Australia. We are also looking for more BSF schemes and potential partners for the city academies programme."

The last wave of PFI schemes seemed unaffordable in one way or another

John Cooper, Anshen Dyer director

The fate of several planned PFI schemes hangs in the balance. The £338m scheme at Hillingdon in north-west London was put on hold at the end of January. Other large schemes include the £696m Birmingham scheme, won by Balfour Beatty and AWG, and the £380m St Helen's scheme, where a Taylor Woodrow-led consortium has almost reached financial close but may now be delayed.

Cooper said PFI specialists should not be surprised by the review. "The last wave of schemes seemed unaffordable in one way or another."