A KEY member of the Paddington Health Campus team has hit out at critics of the £800 million scheme, accusing them of trying to sabotage the project.
Julian Nettel, chief executive of St Mary's Hospital NHS Trust, one of the two trusts behind the deal, countered criticism by a Government review last month that labelled the project 'unaffordable' Speaking exclusively to Construction News, Mr Nettel blamed an 'extremely well orchestrated campaign by pretty misguided people' for creating an 'erroneous climate of opinion' around the scheme.
He added: 'Find me a complex construction project that does not have major issues and problems to overcome.'
The Government report, published jointly by the Department of Health, Treasury and National Audit Office, claimed the campus project did not have the backing of the local health trusts that will have to fund it, making it unaffordable.
But Mr Nettel said changes in the structure of the NHS made it impossible to secure this support. He added: 'We didn't have a clear understanding of what the affordability tolerances were because the organisations that could give us that information were only forming in 2002.'
The PHC was initially expected to be up and running by early 2006, a date that has now slipped to late 2011 at the earliest.The delay is expected to cost taxpayers more than £100 million.
Mr Nettel said: 'We are going to save over £20 million of taxpayers'money by bringing all the services together onto one site, so for every year's delay there is a £20 million penalty.'
Mr Nettel hit out at suggestions in the review that the project team lacked skills.
He said: 'The team has had the skills necessary to do what it's had to do up to now.'
But he admitted: 'The project management in the very early days was not as strong as it could have been.That has now been put right.'
Mr Nettel said the review's conclusion that the project team was underfunded was correct but acknowledged no move had been made to secure additional funding from central Government.
He said: 'We were given no indication by anybody that any extra money would be made available so we soldiered on with the resources we had.'
Critics have also slammed health campus managers for wasting months negotiating the lease of an office building in Paddington known as The Point, a criticism Mr Nettel strongly refuted.
He said: 'We were in a good position to use it effectively and thought the market allowed for quite a good commercial deal to be struck.'
But despite his claim that the PHC team negotiated 'a pretty competitive price'NHS bosses refused to approve the deal.Mr Nettel said it was 'too expensive' The original outline business case for the PHC massively underestimated the space needed for the new hospital.
Mr Nettel admitted that the project board could have produced a new business case when the errors were discovered, but claimed responsibility for halting the scheme did not lie with PHC managers.
He said: 'It is not for the project to request of itself that it produces a new outline business case.'
Mr Nettel claimed that he arrived too late to do anything about the mistakes in the original 2000 outline business case.'I joined St Mary's in 1999 and the document had more or less been put together by that point.'
Asked how long it took to correct the errors, he said: 'It became pretty clear within the space of 18 months to two years that we had to rectify those mistakes.'
The capital value of the scheme is, according to the project team, likely to remain in the region of £800 million and despite the problems so far Mr Nettel remains confident the PHC will succeed.
He said: 'The problems we're facing can be overcome.We are firmly convinced of that.'