Trust managers this week defended the first private finance initiative hospital after it became a target for scathing criticism in a Sunday newspaper.

An article in The Observer quoted union and hospital staff who described a 'catalogue of horrors' at the new£87m Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle, under the headline, 'Filthy, gloomy and chaotic: the reality of a new NHS flagship'. The problems included sewage leaking into an operating theatre, and soaring temperatures in the glass-roofed atrium.

The article laid the blame firmly at the door of PFI.

But Brian Earley, acting chief executive of North Cumbria Acute Hospitals trust, insisted that the trust and its PFI partners were working hard to overcome recent problems. 'There are people philosophically opposed to PFI, ' said Mr Earley.

He said it made no sense to suggest the trust's PFI partner had cut corners in building the hospital since the same company was responsible for maintaining the infirmary over the next 30 years. He added: 'Frankly, what we put up with before PFI was disgraceful. I've been involved in new builds before PFI and they were not problem-free.'

Meanwhile, Unison has revealed that its members at the infirmary are to ballot on industrial action.