Sick Kids' brain unit faces delay

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A BRAIN unit crucial to the future of the new Sick Kids Hospital will not be built in time for its planned opening in 2013.

Health chiefs wanted to create a new Department of Clinical Neurosciences (DCN) as part of the 150 million new Sick Kids at Little France.

That plan was ditched after the Scottish Government refused to fund the move, but health chiefs said they were confident the unit could still be built in the same timescale.

However, NHS Lothian planning documents have now revealed that the deadline will not be met, with no new date fixed for its completion.

They have insisted that the scheme will happen at some point, despite the delay. Jackie Sansbury, chief operating officer for acute services, said: "NHS Lothian remains fully committed to building new accommodation for the DCN at Little France and we are currently exploring the options."

When the business case for the new Sick Kids was struck, the health board was under the impression the government would provide 48m for the scheme, along with the 50m it is contributing to the Sick Kids construction.

But after further meetings it emerged ministers had no intention of doing this, sending NHS Lothian back to the drawing board, adding 8m to the Sick Kids cost, and delaying the children's hospital opening by more than six months.

The adjoining DCN was seen as absolutely critical to the "world class" status of the new Sick Kids.

The Scottish Government itself insists that children and adult specialist services should be situated next to each other, and that was a key point in the health board's argument to bring neurosciences there.

Instead, the government wants the cash-strapped health board to explore the Scottish Future Trusts avenue, which would produce the goods in the short-term but be significantly more costly in the long run.

With the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, also at Little France, saddled with huge debts from a private finance initiative, NHS Lothian is keen to steer clear of anything other than public funding.

Labour's health spokeswoman for Edinburgh, Councillor Lesley Hinds said: "If you take services away from hospitals it gradually downgrades them and eventually it's harder to get new things in.

"If the Scottish Government gave the impression they would be paying for this, they should look again. It's crucial to have a world-class children's hospital in Edinburgh."

Moving the brain unit into the Sick Kids building from the ageing Western General would have centralised services for the first time.