EDINBURGH’S new children’s hospital could be delayed for a whole year, an MSP has suggested after Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced more checks are needed on the £150 million building.
Two weeks after ordering a halt to the planned opening of the 233-bed hospital because of problems with the ventilation system in the critical care unit, Ms Freeman said major checks would be carried out on all aspects of the building which could affect the safety of staff and patients. Priority is being given to the water, ventilation and drainage systems.
But a full report on the checks by NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) is not expected until September.
Lothian MSP and Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “Once we get the report, whatever’s needing to be done will then have to be commissioned. Will it be this time next year before we get it open?”
The hospital was originally due to open in 2012 but has been subject to repeated delays, culminating in the announcement on July 4 - just hours before the move from the current Sick Kids Hospital was due to start - that the opening was being indefinitely postponed.
Earlier this week the Edinburgh Evening News revealed claims that drainage problems led to two previously undisclosed floods in the basement of the new hospital. A source close to the project said a drainage sump had not been designed for the volume of waste water it would have to cope with.
Ms Freeman, who visited the new hospital yesterday, has previously indicated she hopes for a phased transfer of services, but her announcement gave no timetable for a move.
She said: “I understand that this is a disappointing and worrying time for parents and carers of patients who have appointments at the new children’s hospital.
“However, safe, effective and high quality clinical services continue to be delivered from the existing site in Sciennes.
“The work carried out by NSS will give quality assurance on the water, ventilation and drainage systems and establish a timeframe for services to move safely to the new hospital.”
She announced NSS would also review current and recently completed major NHS capital projects elsewhere to ensure the same standards have been complied with.
And she said finance experts KPMG had begun an independent review of the governance arrangements for the new children’s hospital to establish the factors that led to the delay,
She said: “This work began on July 15 and in the first instance will focus on collecting and reviewing all pertinent documentation. This will inform next steps, including interviews with key personnel.”
Ms Freeman also announced NHS Lothian would be required to agree a formal recovery plan with the Scottish Government, with clear milestones and responsibilities, and a package of tailored support would be made available to the health board to drive forward improvements.
Ms Freeman said she recognised NHS staff had made considerable efforts both in the lead up to the planned move and following the delay. “I have written to staff today to thank them for their hard work and for all that they are doing to help manage the situation, and for their excellent track record of providing high-quality patient care.”
Tom Waterson, branch chair for health union Unison, complained staff had been kept in the dark and trade unions were not being informed of developments with the hospital.
He said: “We would reiterate our call for a public investigation into this.”
He suggested key players in the saga could be quizzed in public by the Scottish Parliament’s health committee.
Edinburgh Western MSP and Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said the special measures for NHS Lothian and calling in KPMG was a high level of intervention. “That suggests a real root and branch review, which might not see the new hospital open until next year.”
Mr Briggs said the latest delay and the new checks would bring huge additional costs and called for answers on who would pay them.
“I’m not sure if they will replace the ventilation system or what remedies they will find but there will be all sorts of costs around that.”
And he said an inquiry into Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital could also lead to more improvement works.
“So it’s not just teething problems - some of these issues are going to be major and costly. We need to have assurances about who is going to pick up the bill - is it taxpayers or the developers?”
Tim Davison, chief executive of NHS Lothian, said until checks were completed and a timeline for the ventilation work was known it was not possible to estimate when the building could be fully occupied.
“However we are exploring if a partial migration of some services, unaffected by this issue, may be possible in the shorter term. Any such plan would only be agreed after a rigorous risk assessment that places patient safety and following agreement from the Scottish Government.”