YOUR report on the Edinburgh children’s hospital ("Clinicians ‘pressured’ to sign off flawed hospital plan", The Herald, August 6) has striking similarities with the Dublin Children’s Hospital, which is reported to be heading towards being the most expensive hospital of its kind in the world.

There is something wrong in the way we procure complex public building systems.

I am a chartered civil engineer and like most of my fellow construction professionals I tend not to contribute to newspaper debates on the construction industry. However, as I approach retirement I wonder if people have forgotten how things used to be when I started learning my trade in the early 1980s. What happened then was when a client required a hospital or school they appointed a professional team to design and manage its delivery from start to finish. A highly experienced architect would lead the design team of civil & structural engineer, mechanical & electrical engineer, and quantity surveyor. The design would be developed to quite literally the last nut and bolt and all would be captured in the bills of quantities for pricing by the bidding contractors. The successful contractor would then know as much as the design team and a suitable contingency would be applied for unknowns. The contract would be administered by the architect (or engineer).

Nothing is perfect of course, but at least this system gave good visibility on where we started and where we ended up.

The client would usually appoint a panel to give direction on politics and project requirements and the architect/engineer would manage the entire building process. The client would not be expected to understand the details of the design and construction process and senior civil servants would not be asked why drains were not working, as is happening now, for example.

This arrangement changed and was accelerated in the 1990s by PFI and the desire to transfer almost all risk to the building contractor. Design was reduced to that of an “exemplar” (not quite fag-pack) and all bidders had to come up with presentable tender designs at their own high cost. The contractor-design process was inevitably shortened by the pressing need to build something/anything to the programme. Anyone who has experience of concrete wagons queuing at the site gate will know what this means.

The current situation with Edinburgh Children’s Hospital is a sad one and I do not welcome the impression it gives of my industry and profession. Should we revisit some of the good practices from my possibly rose-tinted past career?

Joe Magee, Dunlop.