Consultants and patient groups have signalled their opposition to a merger of trusts involved in a controversial £250m private finance initiative hospital rebuilding project.

Nearly three-quarters of consultants at Manchester Children's Hospitals trust have voted to oppose plans to merge with Central Manchester Healthcare trust from April next year, saying they are concerned about the managerial and clinical consequences of the move.

Dr Richard Stevens, chair of the medical staff committee, said: 'We have opposed the merger on the grounds of great uncertainty over managerial and clinical services. We are worried about what is going to happen from April 2001 until the move into a new hospital some time in 2006.'

The consultants have made their objections known to North West regional office and health secretary Alan Milburn.

The PFI scheme will provide a new children's hospital on the Central Manchester site while rationalising other hospital services at present housed in Victorian buildings.

Children's services will also be provided at two other sites.

Funding for the PFI itself has caused controversy as it hinges on both trusts contributing a total of£15m through charitable donations. The children's hospital must find£10m and Central Manchester£5m.

'I find this amazing, ' said Cath Arnold, chief officer of North Manchester community health council. 'You don't see the police having to go around with a collecting tin to buy a new panda car, do you? They are going to have real problems.£15m is a lot to find in a city of just 420,000 people.'

Ms Arnold said all three Manchester CHCs were concerned that merger plans would lead to 'asset stripping' across the city and problems with recruitment.

In 1995, the CHCs were granted a judicial review of PFI merger plans. In early 1997 the then health secretary Stephen Dorrell said the scheme should go ahead but the children's hospital should retain its own management. The merger proposal emerged earlier this year.

Stuart Smalley, chief executive of the children's hospital trust, and lead officer on the PFI plan, said further meetings would take place with medical staff to 'review the advantages' of a merger.

'It is key that we get what is best for children but we have been trying to improve services here for 20 years now. We have two hospitals seven miles apart and in an era of clinical governance and quality structures we cannot continue in that way.'

Mr Smalley said that a team of 'professional funding advisers' had been engaged to look at the feasibility of raising£15m.

The tender for the PFI has just been published and a formal consultation document is being drafted for publication next month.