'Well, well, well, surprise, surprise. ' Dr Liam Fox, the Tory health spokesman and George W Bush lookalike, spoke for the nation when he responded to Alan Milburn's announcement of 29 new hospital building projects in tones of not-so-gentle irony.

Except, in fact, he didn't speak for the nation. As you know, the£3. 1bn worth of projects (almost doubling the 38 costing£4bn already announced since 1997) are mostly being funded under the private finance initiative and are therefore rather more expensive to the NHS than old-fashioned Treasury boodle would have cost.

Yet most MPs, Tory, Lib Dem and even usually grumpy Ulster Unionists, as well as Labour loyalists (disloyalists too), all embraced the news as if Christmas had come early. 'I take the secretary of state's statement at face value, ' declared NHS Tory Nicholas Winterton.

In short, there wasn't much support for Dr Fox's denunciation of a headline-grabbing 'sham' when Mr Milburn reported to the Commons. It enabled the minister to remind MPs that a Hague government wouldn't be able to find the money for hospitals and tax cuts - and that Dr Fox's own Woodspring constituency would also benefit from beefedup provision for Bristol's chronic mental healthcare (Mr Winterton had expressed concern for the Cinderella service).

But surely Dr Fox is right to be sceptical, even if his focus was a bit woozy. Minister Milburn is expecting an election shortly (any takers for 5 April? ), as was underlined by his subsequent speech to Labour's spring conference in Glasgow. . . New targets for cutting infant mortality in the poorest families (shamefully worse than for most of us), new devolved powers for ward sisters, new powers for managers to pay bonuses to their best staff.

All good stuff. But these are pre-election feel-good policies which will come into effect after the election, not until 2006 at the earliest in the case of the new PFI hospitals. And folk are entitled to ask, as HSJ's editorial did last week, where all the money is coming from at a time when expectations are being raised almost as fast as costly initiatives.

Talk to anyone about costs these days and It is not the capital cost, but the running costs which cripple. 'Even if we install CCTV cameras, the police can't monitor them, ' my much-robbed local sub-postmaster tells me.

Mr Milburn's statement reversed the bedclosure trend, recently reinforced by PFI accountancy. It also promoted fast-track specialist units, for non-urgent ops only, like the one at the Central Middlesex Hospital which Tony Blair blessed with a personal visit.

Mr Milburn did not sidestep all the Foxy questions ('we shot his fox', he quipped). He confirmed that PFI contracts will be between 15 and 30 years, that£300m has been set aside to staff the stand-alone units, that the NHS will have the option to buy PFI hospitals postcontract and that - sorry, Liam - none so far are behind schedule.

I happen to know that Mr Blair is very keen on this sort of perspective and likes to contrast new PFI hospitals coming on stream with the cost overruns and delays of, say, the Jubilee line extension to Canary Wharf, a nightmare compared with the privately built Docklands Light Railway in the same area.

There is no point in reminding Mr Blair that it is the private sector that has botched the Channel Tunnel, not to mention the highspeed link to London. He's in love with private sector finance, which is why John Prescott's equivalent, the public-private partnership, is set to botch the rebuilding of the Tube unless he can be rescued by Bob Kiley, Ken Livingstone's super-smart American import.

As the man who rescued both the New York and Boston Undergrounds (both as old and clapped out as a Victorian hospital), Mr Kiley is as smart a public servant as I have met in years. He is sceptical of private sector claims and of PFI and its cost overruns which are always picked up by the taxpayer in the end because you can't let the Underground (or the NHS) go bust.

By the way, the one Foxy question Minister Milburn did duck was the rate of return on PFI contracts, 11. 2 to 18. 5 per cent of construction costs, I am told, compared with 6 per cent on Treasury-funded schemes. The difference represents an awful lot of nurses.