Plans for a massive hospital building programme have been given the thumbs up from most health service organisations - and construction companies. But there are doubts over whether the companies set up to carry out private finance initiative work will be able to meet the rapid expansion plans, particularly for such largescale projects.

PFI consortia - specially created companies which negotiate the contracts on behalf of building, finance and facilities managers - are worried that the situation before the last election might be repeated, when there was a rush to get PFI schemes settled. It left construction companies such as Laing and McAlpine and their consortia partners struggling to meet a variety of contract specifications which, at that time, differed between trusts.

'The projects are between£60450m, ' said Matthew Reed, business development manager for Laing. 'There are probably only six or seven consortia capable of carrying out work on that scale. '

Although the Department of Health has now standardised PFI contracts, putting a bid together still demands a huge amount of work. 'I genuinely hope they will stagger things to enable us to respond properly, ' said Mr Reed.

'The last wave came out in batches, so we had to be very selective about which we went for. '

A DoH spokesperson said the whole process had been simplified and that the plans took account of what the industry could be expected to do.