Edinburgh's Sick Kids 'ghost hospital' forks out £139,000 a month for staff

A hospital that has yet to treat a single patient spent £834,000 in six months on more than 130 staff who are contracted work there.

The new Royal Hospital for Children and Young People in Edinburgh which cost £150 million to build has lain empty since the Scottish Government called a halt to the opening over safety concerns last July.

Despite this 137 staff were employed with full or part-time in domestics, catering and logistics in the six-month period between March to August 2019, according to a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Scottish Lib Dems.

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In addition to this more than £10,000 has been spent on training for the elevated helideck response team and it has previously been reported that they have been deployed as car park attendants to keep them busy.

Costs for Sick Kids ghost hospital grow as 139k shelled out for staff each month.Costs for Sick Kids ghost hospital grow as 139k shelled out for staff each month.
Costs for Sick Kids ghost hospital grow as 139k shelled out for staff each month.

NHS Lothian took control of the unopened hospital in February 2019 and has been repaying the equivalent of £1.4 million a month since then to a private consortium, with the total cost of the project expected to rise to around £432 million - including maintenance and facilities management fees over the next 25 years.

The cost of the remedial works and double-running until the new building can open has been estimated at £16 million.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman cancelled the opening of the new building at Little France just hours before the opening after it was found the ventilation system in critical care did not meet national standards.

She also demanded further checks on other aspects of the building, particularly the water supply, ventilation and drainage.

As a result, the current Sick Kids site at Sciennes is having to remain in operation, as is the Department of Clinical Neuroscience (DCN) at the Western General, which was due to move to the same site at Little France.

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP voiced concern about the mounting and “colossal costs”.

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He said: “Patients and the public will be dismayed to find the colossal costs of the Sick Kids ghost hospital continue to grow.

“They’ve been in possession of an empty building for 11 months, at a cost of over £12 million so far. Now we discover we’re shelling out £140k a month on top of that to have staff help run and cater a hospital without a single patient.

“It’s unbelievable how much money has been wasted in this project because of sloppy management and systematic failings. The Scottish Government needs to ensure there is full transparency about how much money is being poured into this project, and it must continue to provide updates on the remedial work and when patients will actually be able to use the new facilities.”

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A previous Scottish Lib Dems freedom of information request revealed the health board spent more than £62,000 advertising the Sick Kids move to the new site at Little France.

Last Thursday the chairman of NHS Lothian quit accusing parts of the Scottish government of failing to treat the board with "dignity and respect".

Brian Houston warned in his resignation letter obtained by BBC Scotland that there was a "blame culture" in the NHS.

In response, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said she wished Mr Houston all the best for the future.

The letter reveals Ms Freeman told Mr Houston to "accept accountability" for delays to Edinburgh's new Royal Hospital for Children and Young People.

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But Mr Houston took issue with this, claiming a "rush to judgement" before a public inquiry into the Sick Kids' delay has started "appears to reflect a desire for blame that is unfair and inappropriate".

The former management consultant's letter states he disagreed with the personal performance appraisal he was given by Malcolm Wright, the chief executive of NHS Scotland, in November last year.

The health secretary backed this assessment of Mr Houston's performance, according to the letter, and this prompted Mr Houston to resign.

NHS Lothian has faced a series of challenges in recent years and has been placed on the Scottish Government's "special measures" programme of managerial support for boards facing specific difficulties.

George Curley, Director of Facilities, NHS Lothian, said:“Between March and July, staff were preparing for the opening of the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People and as soon as the extent of the delay became clear, staffing was reviewed to ensure that the personnel on site were required to be there.

“Many of the team have multi-faceted roles and were assigned new positions across multiple sites, including the existing Royal Hospital for Sick Children, the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the new building.

“We have a number of staff on site to look after the daily maintenance and logistical needs of the building, while security is a significant issue. The heli-deck team is made up of some of those staff, who work in logistics and security on a day-to-day basis, but have been specifically trained to assist with the helicopter as and when required.

“The canteen, which has a minimal staff, works to maintain operational knowledge and produces food for other sites, serves contractors, staff from the RIE and people taking part in some of the many planned visits.”