The Health Minister Edwin Poots has no idea how much he will pay to private developers for two state-of-the-art health centres being built in Lisburn and Newry.
The facilities – being built at a cost of £80m – are being developed as part of the minister's ambitious plan to save the health service, Transforming Your Care (TYC), which will result in more care being delivered in the community.
They will be financed through a mechanism known as third party development (3PD) which involves a partnership arrangement with a private sector company.
Third party developers will be selected to build the facilities and they will then lease the buildings back to the health service. A spokeswoman from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety said the cost of using this route to finance the projects is not yet known. She said this will be a key aspect of the procurement process and will become clear as it progresses.
Leading public service union Unison said the 3PD scheme is "the discredited private finance initiative under another name". A spokesman said: "This is the slippery slope."
SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt, a member of the Stormont health committee, also expressed concern at the decision.
"This is a worrying development in relation to the future of the NHS and confirms the fears of so many people that the minister's recent consultation on TYC was an exercise in creeping privatisation," he said.