Contractors Amey, Imbregilo and Multiplex have pitched for the £240m Plymouth hospital PFI, allaying fears that the project would attract no tenders

The scheme has been delayed since July last year, when the two contractors that had been expected to bid – Sir Robert McAlpine and Taylor Woodrow – decided against pitching for the project.

Since then, Plymouth Hospitals NHS trust has struggled to drum up interest. When it finally invited expressions of interest, the trust had to assure the Department of Health that it would obtain the minimum two bidders.

A source at the NHS trust confirmed that it had now received three expressions of interest, and added that it was hoped that more would emerge before the deadline next week. However, this is considered unlikely.

The source said: “There had been no interest whatsoever since the beginning of the year. It’s amazing how it has changed. We knew before the notice went out that Multiplex and Imbregilo were interested but then Amey came to see us about the project.”

The project has faced problems for two reasons: first, its relative remoteness at the tip of the West Country; second, because of the capacity crisis in the industry. However, a senior DoH source said that the capacity crisis had now finally started to recede. Last spring, the problem was so acute that DoH officials were warning that they would have to prune back schemes.

One scheme currently generating interest among contractors is a £300m PFI hospital in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. It is considered less risky than many because it is on a greenfield site, so remediation is not a factor.

Mel Ewell, Amey chief executive, confirmed that his company was also interested in the Tunbridge Wells scheme, but noted that capacity remained an issue.

He said: “Health is an important sector moving forward for Amey. What I wouldn’t want to do, though, is overstretch Amey’s bidding capability.”