Carlisle's Cumberland Infirmary is “no longer fit for purpose” - and its controversial PFI building needs a major revamp.

Hospital chief executive Stephen Eames made the comments while being quizzed by councillors about how the hospital can cope with all the extra patients now set to be transferred from west Cumbria as part of highly-contentious local NHS reforms.

The Success Regime plans include centralising all stroke care in Carlisle and downgrading paediatrics at the West Cumberland Hospital , resulting in more transfers of seriously ill children to the infirmary.

Plans to remove consultant-led maternity from Whitehaven have been given a 12-month reprieve for further review, however the option chosen will still see some of the most high risk births sent to Carlisle in the meantime.

The Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee, made up of county and district councillors, met on Wednesday to decide whether or not to use powers to refer decisions about these services to the Secretary of State.

During the discussions, councillors said they were concerned about the “cumulative impact” of the various service changes, and subsequent impact in workload, on both the Cumberland Infirmary and local ambulance service.

Mr Eames, who has previously said the hospital can cope without major expansion, told members it was something they were looking at.

He explained that, as part of the work to address serious fire safety flaws in the infirmary building, they would be improving the way the building is currently configured - including creating a so-called “emergency floor”.

Stephen Eames Mr Eames said they will be installing a new sprinkler system in every part of the hospital, and added: “As part of that we are reviewing the whole hospital. It’s not fit for 21st century healthcare.”

He said the new West Cumberland Hospital, as it was built more recently, is better configured and they now want to make improvements in Carlisle.

Again referring to the infirmary, he added: “It’s not fit for purpose now, let alone if there are any other changes further down the line.”

The £67m Cumberland Infirmary opened in 2000 - the first in the country to be built with controversial Private Finance Initiative (PFI) funding.

There has since been criticism of the layout of the building - which now costs North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust about £23 million a year to use - and more recently, the fire service uncovered serious safety flaws in the way it was built. Hospital bosses and PFI partners have already taken urgent action to address this, but longer term a new sprinkler system is needed along with improvements to fire walls.

Whitehaven county councillor Christine Wharrier, who was among the members of the scrutiny committee to quiz bosses about the potential impact of extra transfers on existing bed pressures, said: “It’s not fit for purpose. It never was.”

But Mr Eames stressed that there are wider plans to tackle delayed transfers of care - or bed blocking - which will also free up space.

“It’s no secret, and this is a national issue, that we have lots of extra capacity that’s currently being used by people who do not need to be there. We’ve got to fix that. There is a lot of change we need to make,” he added.

The scrutiny committee decided to refer the current plans for maternity services to Health secretary Jeremy Hunt, but after initially voting to do the same for paediatrics they later backtracked and agreed not to.