Patients have been evacuated from a ward at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary – after dead pigeons were found behind the walls.
Nurses are understood to have raised the alarm after hearing faint chirping noises from behind the plaster in ward 207.
The general medical ward is now believed to be closed for a week – the third major pigeon-related disruption at the site in five years.
“A patient complained about the smell in a side room on the ward and the nurses came and heard chirping and a rustling sound,” said Unison’s Tam Waterson.
“They found a number of dead pigeons. We have said there are issues with vermin on the site.”
The union warned of a 100-strong pigeon colony living at the hospital five years ago. Two operating theatres were shut down for 11 days in June 2012 when flies from a maggot-infested pigeon carcass found their way in.
And in December that year, shocked hospital staff found a rogue fly in a sterile area – closing another operating theatre.
Opened in 2001, the Little France site was built and is run by controversial Private Finance Initiative provider, Consort.
“We reported it five years ago but Consort denied in and the health board denied it,” said Mr Waterson.
“There are a number of concerning matters – pest control being the main one.
“We’re paying an extortionate amount of money, £60m-a-year in rent, for a hospital where we can’t even keep birds out of the wall.”
A 45-year-old clinician said of the latest pigeon problem: “They noticed it when staff heard chirping coming from the walls.
“They called in the pest control, pulled down the walls and have been bringing sacks full of dead birds out.
“The ward will be shut for a week yet. That’s 48 beds that they have to find somewhere else for patients.
“There’s a net up covering part of the roof and they’ve brought falconers in before to try and get rid of pigeons.”
George Curley, NHS Lothian’s director of facilities, said: “Our routine maintenance checks found pigeons in an external wall cavity in the building of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. As a precaution, and to prevent disruption, some patients have been moved to another part of the hospital while cleaning is carried out.
“We work hard to ensure all our sites are free of pests, which is why we are investigating the issue at the RIE more closely and will continue to monitor all of our estate.”