Claims Royal Infirmary was '˜built on the cheap' as staff left with no air con

Soaring temperatures inside Edinburgh Royal Infirmary are making conditions for staff 'impossible to work in' with a union representative calling the hospital a 'complete waste of money'.

Staff and patients have been left struggling in the extreme heat
Staff and patients have been left struggling in the extreme heat

Staff have slammed the overbearing heat at the Simpsons’s maternity unit saying it is dangerous for both themselves and their patients.

The problem has been blamed on a lack of air conditioning in the PFI-built hospital and the fact windows are only allowed to open four inches as a safety feature of the £184 million building.

Yesterday, as the temperature neared 27c in Edinburgh, one midwife working in the ERI’s maternity told the Evening News: “The situation is intolerable. There is no air-conditioning and there is no way we can open the windows.

“It has been bad for a few weeks but now it is getting really hot it is impossible to work in. The sweat is lashing off us as we try to work. It is dangerous for us and it is also dangerous for the patients we are treating.

“We have complained to bosses and the unions but it seems there is nothing they can do.

“We have been given fans but that is really no use, all that’s doing is re-circulating hot air.”

Unison has sent a health and safety inspector around wards following a number of complaints throughout the hospital.

Chairman of the union’s Lothian Health branch, Tom Waterson, said the problem had existed since the ERI was built and was not just a result of this summer’s high temperatures.

He added: “This is not a new problem and it is simply not good enough. The fundamental issues causing problems for staff and patients are evident and changes need to be made.

“The ERI is a complete waste of public money and isn’t fit for purpose. It was built on the cheap, despite costing £184 million. The place was built without air conditioning leaving everyone too hot. The issue is spread across the whole building but Unison has received the most amount of complaints from the maternity unit.

“We are in constant discussions with NHS Lothian to alleviate these issues. Staff are getting more breaks to get a cold drink and fresh air while more fans have been introduced.”

Mr Waterson raised the issue with Consort – the private firm which runs the hospital – on numerous occasions in 2014, which led to screens being put over windows.

NHS Lothian told the Evening News a number of actions have been taken including the use of fans, switching off lights and electrical devices where appropriate and ensuring windows remain open.

But staff have claimed the measures are not enough with many units of the hospital including trauma orthopaedics, outpatients still experiencing extortionate temperatures.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 says that your employer must maintain a reasonable temperature where you work, but it does not specify a maximum temperature.

However, guidance suggests a minimum of 16C or 13C if employees are doing physical work. Staff have been complaining about stifling conditions in the hospital since it first opened in 2002.

Workers including doctors, nurses and medical secretaries have complained that poor ventilation left areas, including reproductive health and the X-ray scan department, suffocatingly hot. Staff are said to have fainted in previous years through the heat and suffering swollen ankles.

High temperatures of up to 35C in the hospital sparked a Health and Safety Executive probe in 2013 which highlighted a catalogue of failures at the time including poor ventilation and access to drinking water.

Ros Shaw, Senior RCN Officer for Lothian, said: “It’s vitally important that patients and staff have easy access to water so they can stay hydrated during these very high temperatures. Staff should be able to have water close at hand in clinical areas, and get time to take a break and rehydrate.

“Dehydration in overheated hospitals is a health risk and can lead to serious conditions. It also affects cognition, which could lead to mistakes. Hospital management should allow water bottles on shift so staff can stay hydrated and make sure they have breaks. This is an issue of patient and staff safety.”

George Curley, director of facilities at NHS Lothian, said: “We are doing everything possible to control temperatures within the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh for the safety and comfort of staff and patients. We are monitoring the situation daily and providing staff with regular updates. The ongoing high temperatures present challenges, which we are addressing in a number of ways. We have asked Consort to explore the possibility of increasing the number of air exchanges within the ventilation system to help reduce temperatures.”