MORE than 70 patients were evacuated and 12 staff taken for treatment following a chemical spill at one of Scotland’s largest hospitals.
One worker remained in hospital for treatment last night after the leak at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary yesterday morning.
Earlier in the day, a total of 74 patients were moved to other parts of the building after two wards were cleared.
Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus and chemical suits remained at the hospital in the Little France area of the city last night.
It emerged that sodium chlorite solution, a disinfectant, was spilled near the basement of the hospital.
The chemical can cause irritation if inhaled and burning if it comes into contact with skin.
Exposure can also cause headaches and vomiting.
Of the 12 staff treated at the infirmary’s own emergency department, 11 were later discharged, while one remained in hospital. Their condition was not thought to be life-threatening.
Patients being treated for respiratory conditions were among those who were moved when the spill occurred. However, they were later allowed back to their wards.
The husband of a patient receiving treatment for a lung condition, who did not want to be named, said: “There was some sort of leak on the hospital grounds and patients were moved.
“We weren’t given any news about what was going on and weren’t able to get access to the wards – they were in lockdown.
“Staff were telling everyone there had been an incident and that my wife may have been subject to some inhalation of gas.”
In a statement issued last night, hospital director Lyn
McDonald said: “The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service remain on site at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh dealing with a chemical incident.
“We have been able to minimise the impact on patients thanks to the good teamworking of our staff on site.
“We have implemented well-rehearsed business continuity plans and, as a precautionary measure, moved some patients away from two wards directly above the affected area, to other wards within the hospital.
“Unfortunately, as a result of the incident, 12 people, all working on site, have attended the emergency department. Eleven of those have been discharged and one has been admitted to hospital.”
A spokeswoman for the fire service said crews remained on site last night to continue diluting the potentially harmful chemicals.
NHS Lothian said the spill had occurred in a non-patient area of the hospital. Among those hospitalised were NHS staff and those working for Consort, the private firm which runs the hospital under a private finance initiative (PFI) contract.
The incident comes after a gas scare in September, which led to two wards at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary being cleared of patients.
The gas, known as RM200, which is intended to put out fires, was released when an alarm went off in an IT room.
Last month, an investigation into the incident uncovered a dangerous breakdown in communication between Consort and NHS workers.
Earlier this year, there were calls for penalties for Consort after critics said their running of the hospital amounted to a “major public scandal”.
The company has been blamed for operating theatres closing when flies were found in sterile areas. Consort also came under fire after it emerged a patient had been operated on by torchlight after a power cut at the hospital.
Consort failed to respond to inquiries from The Scotsman yesterday.