Demand for full audit of troubled children’s hospital
● Union warns £150m building may have to be demolished amid calls for public inquiry
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.
0 The Royal Hospital for Children and Young People was due to open last month