PFI hospital schemes may be let in groups of five if proposals being considered by a Department of Health review are implemented.
The DoH believes that the current system of inviting expressions of interest in the European Union's Official Journal at irregular intervals is creating uncertainty among potential bidders.

DoH sources said that by advertising five schemes at regular intervals, contractors might find it easier to decide which they bid for. The NHS is discussing the proposal with interested parties, which are believed to include NHS trusts.

A DoH source said the proposals could increase the willingness of contractors to bid for hospital schemes. He said: "One of the issues [this addresses] is market management; contractors will know when the schemes are coming up."

But industry observers were critical of the scheme. One said: "It's like Soviet Russia – there's a superficial central control, but on the ground there's less control."

The move is part of an internal review to revamp the PFI hospitals process. The main aim is to reduce the time from the publication of an OJ notice to financial completion.

The review was set up partly in response to problems encountered by the massive £600m redevelopment of the Royal London and St Bartholomew's hospitals. Concerns have been raised that the scheme – expected to be advertised by February – would cost tens of millions of pounds in bidding costs alone, leading to a shortage of interested contractors.