Royal Victoria to stay open for two more years

A PREVIOUSLY mothballed city hospital is now expected to remain open for at least two years, adding to a multi-million pound maintenance headache facing health bosses.

The Royal Victoria Hospital was closed last August and earmarked for sale, with NHS Lothian hoping the sell-off would help reduce the huge £191 million cost of bringing its properties up to scratch as it would no longer have responsibility for one of its oldest facilities.

But as pressure over beds approached critical levels in the winter, the hospital was dramatically reopened in November, with the health board claiming the U-turn was a “temporary solution”.

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The Evening News revealed in February that high-level talks had taken place over the long-term future of the aging facility, and NHS Lothian has now admitted that it is not expected to be sold until at least 2015-16.

Lothian health board chief executive Tim Davison joked that the Royal Victoria, which a new state-of-the-art building at the Western General Hospital was intended to replace, may not be sold “this century”.

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It means that NHS Lothian will continue to have to spend money on the building, especially if a possible plan to move 67 additional continuing care beds into the building goes ahead.

But despite facing a £191m maintenance backlog, including £104m at the region’s hospitals, NHS Lothian has allocated just £5m of additional funding for each of the next five financial years to tackle the bill.

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Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said £5m was a “drop in the ocean” and called on health chiefs to set out the future of the Royal Victoria Hospital.

She said: “Badly maintained buildings mean they are harder to keep clean and are less reliable. This is a big problem given the financial pressures that our NHS services face.

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“People will want to know what’s happening to the Royal Victoria Hospital.

“After it was brought back into use, concerns were raised about its condition and we were assured that it was only for short-term use. It now transpires that it will be in use for another two years.

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“Clarity on a long-term solution is urgently needed.”

Although cash from selling properties goes to the Scottish Government rather than NHS Lothian, it is hoped that by disposing of, or rebuilding, older buildings the maintenance bill will reduce in coming years.

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The planed redevelopment of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, re-provision of Wester Hailes Health Centre, Tranent Health Centre extension, the redevelopment of Roodlands and Herdmanflat Hospitals in East Lothian and the re-provision of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences are expected to reduce the maintenance backlog by almost £45m.

The sale of other properties, including the existing Sick Kids hospital, is expected to reduce the total by a further £30m over the next five years.

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Susan Goldsmith, NHS Lothian’s finance director, said: “The major disposal will be the Royal Victoria Hospital – we are revisiting that at the moment.

“I suspect we will dispose of it at some point, just it may not be in the short term.

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“We prioritise maintenance across our estate to ensure facilities are of a standard that allows us to operate effectively, efficiently and safely.

“The additional funding will address some of the maintenance priorities that are over and above our routine programme of upgrades and repairs.

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“This is in addition to the significant investment that is being made in new buildings which is allowing us to reduce the size and age of our estate.”