De­mand for full au­dit of trou­bled chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal

● Union warns £150m build­ing may have to be de­mol­ished amid calls for public in­quiry

The Scotsman - - FRONT PAGE - By SCOTT MACNAB Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

The public spending watch­dog has been urged to in­ves­ti­gate the “far­ci­cal” de­lay to a new chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal.

Pres­sure mounted on Health Sec­re­tary Jeanne Free­man af­ter a health union of­fi­cial warned yesterday that the build­ing, next to the Royal In­fir­mary of Ed­in­burgh, may have to be “ripped down”.

Labour has called for a public in­quiry and the Con­ser­va­tives have writ­ten to Au­dit Scot­land call­ing for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into spending on the trou­bled project.

The Royal Hos­pi­tal for Chil­dren and Young Peo­ple was due to open last month but Ms Free­man stepped in to over­rule NHS Loth­ian and de­lay the open­ing af­ter it failed safety checks.

Since Fe­bru­ary, the health board has been pay­ing £1.4 mil­lion a month for the empty hos­pi­tal to de­vel­op­ers In­te­grated Health So­lu­tions Loth­ian (IHSL) un­der the 25-year pri­vate fi­nance deal agreed for the build­ing.

Con­ser­va­tive health spokesman Miles Briggs said Ms Free­man’s and the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s man­age­ment of the project ap­peared to be “totally in­com­pe­tent”.

He said the scheme had been “a com­plete farce from the start and, judg­ing by these warn­ings, things could get even worse”.

Mr briggs added :“scot­tish con­ser­va­tives have called for full trans­parency around the project and called on the Health and Sport Com­mit­tee to un­der­take an in­quiry into the project.

“I have to­day also writ­ten to Au­dit Scot­land to ask them to un­der­take a full au­dit of the Sick Kids project and the con­tracts and spec­i­fi­ca­tions

com­mis­sion on the hos­pi­tal.” The NHS is car­ry­ing out a re­view of the wa­ter, ventilatio­n and drainage sys­tems at the hos­pi­tal, or­dered by Ms Free­man. It is not known when the site will be safe for use.

Labour peer Lord Foulkes ques­tioned whether Ms Free­man can carry on as Health Sec­re­tary.

He said: “Jeane is to blame be­cause she is ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for the health board. Par­lia­ment should be re­called.”

Scot­tish Labour’s health spokeswoma­n Mon­ica Len­non said: “We are learn­ing more about the Ed­in­burgh Sick Kids scan­dal by the day and now damn­ing crit­i­cism of the Health Sec­re­tary from a lead­ing trade union­ist brings into question whether she can carry on.”

She added: “It must be sick­en­ing for work­ers in our cash­strapped NHS to see mil­lions go­ing down the drain and noone is tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“Ul­ti­mately, the buck stops with Jeane Free­man. That the new Ed­in­burgh Sick Kids could be ripped down be­fore it even opens is un­think­able and a public in­quiry must get un­der way.”

Uni­son of­fi­cial Tam Water­son, who rep­re­sents NHS staff in Ed­in­burgh, warned some peo­ple fear it may have to be de­mol­ished and said Ms Free­man should be held ac­count­able.

He said: “We know the drainage is not fit for pur­pose. It’s been flooded twice with no­body in it. There is a school of thought that they might have to rip it down.”

He added: “My un­der­stand­ing is that we will not know the full ex­tent of the drainage is­sues un­til the hos­pi­tal is work­ing at full ca­pac­ity. That is a ma­jor health and safety risk. My big con­cern is we open the hos­pi­tal without do­ing all the checks, sat­is­fy­ing our­selves the drainage is fine, and we then have to close the hos­pi­tal.”

A Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment spokeswoma­n said the safety of patients was Ms Free­man’s “great­est re­spon­si­bil­ity”. She said: “Patients and car­ers have been con­tacted di­rectly to con­firm appointmen­t ar­range­ments and a ded­i­cated helpline re­mains in place.

“She recog­nises that many staff share her frus­tra­tion fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment of the de­lay.

“The Health Sec­re­tary and the Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer vis­ited staff at the Sick Kids hos­pi­tal to hear any con­cerns they may have, and to of­fer their per­sonal thanks for the ex­em­plary way in which they have man­aged the de­layed move.

“The Health Sec­re­tary will meet again with NHS Loth­ian staff rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the coming weeks.

“It is un­true that the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has sought to ex­clude the trades unions or staff.”

The hos­pi­tal is be­ing paid for via the non-profit dis­tribut­ing pri­vate fi­nance model sup­ported by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment through the Scot­tish Fu­tures Trust.

The to­tal con­tracted cost for IHSL to de­sign, build, fi­nance and main­tain the hos­pi­tal over 25 years is £432 mil­lion.

Pro­fes­sor Alex Mcma­hon, nurse di­rec­tor at NHS Loth­ian, said: “There are a num­ber of independen­t re­views and in­ves­ti­ga­tions un­der way

“Given the pause in oc­cu­pa­tion, the com­mis­sioned re­views will fo­cus on ventilatio­n and will also look at drainage and wa­ter sys­tems as a pri­or­ity.”

The de­mand from Labour for the re­call of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment to dis­cuss the cri­sis en­gulf­ing the new chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal in Ed­in­burgh is, we be­lieve, en­tirely le­git­i­mate.

And, with con­cerns grow­ing about whether the build­ing – con­structed un­der a part­ner­ship with de­vel­op­ers in a deal that will cost tax­pay­ers £432 mil­lion over 25 years – is ac­tu­ally fit for pur­pose, Labour’s as­ser­tion that the buck stops with Health Sec­re­tary Jeane Free­man is also rea­son­able.

The Royal Hos­pi­tal for Chil­dren and Young Peo­ple was sched­uled to open last month but af­ter it failed safety checks, it re­mains empty. Since Fe­bru­ary, NHS Loth­ian has been pay­ing £1.4 mil­lion-a-month to de­vel­op­ers In­te­grated Health So­lu­tions Loth­ian as part of the pri­vate fi­nance deal struck to com­plete its con­struc­tion. This is money down the drain.

On top of Labour’s de­mands for par­lia­men­tary re­call and for Ms Free­man to take per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity for this dis­as­trous project, the Con­ser­va­tives have called on public spending watch­dog Au­dit Scot­land to in­ves­ti­gate and trade union Uni­son has spo­ken about fears the build­ing my have to be de­mol­ished.

It is clear that some­thing has gone

badly wrong at what should have been a state-of-the-art hos­pi­tal. It would, without question, suit min­is­ters to avoid dif­fi­cult ques­tions about the project; the sum­mer re­cess could not have come at a more con­ve­nient time.

But dif­fi­cult ques­tions about the hos­pi­tal care not go­ing to go away and it is in the in­ter­ests of tax­pay­ers and those who will de­pend on this new hos­pi­tal for an­swers to start coming sooner rather than later.

The SNP has made much in the past about the high cost of Pri­vate Fi­nance Ini­tia­tive projects car­ried out by Labour and the Con­ser­va­tives.

The party should not, then, be sur­prised that its own it­er­a­tion of PFI – lit­tle more than a re­brand­ing of the scheme – is now un­der in­tense scru­tiny.

There is no place for se­crecy in this scan­dal. Tax­pay­ers are en­ti­tled to ex­pect a full and frank ex­pla­na­tion of what has gone wrong, what is be­ing done to cor­rect mis­takes, and how much all of this has cost.

Jeane Free­man is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a com­pe­tent min­is­ter but she can­not shirk re­spon­si­bil­ity for what has un­folded in re­cent months. She has to get a grip on this mess and en­sure the new hos­pi­tal is up and run­ning as soon as pos­si­ble.

PIC­TURE: SCOTT LOUDEN

0 The Royal Hos­pi­tal for Chil­dren and Young Peo­ple was due to open last month

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