THE Scottish Government is facing increasing pressure to pay for the new Sick Kids hospital over fears that delays to the development could stall the project completely.
The new hospital is already four years behind its original completion date, and concerns have been raised that it is unlikely to hit the current proposed opening date of autumn 2016.
In the wake of the latest blunders by Consort, the private firm which runs the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, there have been fresh calls for the government to abandon private funding plans and step in to get the project back on track. The Sick Kids was originally going to be paid for out of the public purse, but in November 2010, the Scottish Government told NHS Lothian it would have to raise the funds privately.
Now it is to be funded with a deal similar to that which will see Consort paid £1.26 billion of public money by 2028 for building and running the ERI.
The Scottish Government’s agency, Scottish Futures Trust, will advise NHS Lothian on striking a deal using the Non- Profit Distribution (NPD) model. It is similar to PFI, but caps the amount of profit that can be made by the private companies involved.
In the wake of damning revelations about Consort however – including the news that an operation at the ERI was completed by torchlight when workers cut the power to theatres – concerns have been raised that this funding model is unacceptable.
Tom Waterson, Lothian branch chairman for Unison, said: “We believe there is not much difference between the new model of the Scottish Futures Trust and PFI.
“It’s still filling the contractors’ pockets with public money. We believe that the Sick Kids should be publicly funded by the Scottish Government and we’d call on the Scottish Government to reverse its decision to use the Scottish Futures Trust.”
Independent MSP Margo MacDonald also called on the Scottish Government to fund the new children’s hospital directly.
“I think it’s absolutely essential that the Sick Kids is not a PFI,” she said. “It’s just unthinkable after we’ve had the example at the ERI of what can happen with a well-intentioned plan. PFI was well-intentioned, but it was ill thought out. You can’t marry the interests of capital and the interests of sick people.
“I’d like to see the Sick Kids given direct public funding. It will not make a profit, it will cost money to treat sick kids. Where are our morals if we think otherwise?”
There are also fears that the complexity of the new funding model will lead to unacceptable delays which could even see the new Sick Kids abandoned, as a new children’s hospital at the Southern General in Glasgow – which was given £800m in direct public funding – goes ahead and becomes a centre of excellence, while the Sick Kids remains mired in negotiations.
Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack has written to Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon asking her to intervene and get the Sick Kids project moving.
Ms Boyack said: “I’m concerned about the delays that just seem to be escalating here. There have been stories in the Evening News before about the concerns over the impact of delays on the whole Sick Kids project and whether we’re going to end up with a national Sick Kids in Glasgow and we’ll just be a satellite.”
The current delay is due to protracted land swap negotiations with Consort – the very firm which NHS Lothian is battling over its performance at the ERI.
Work cannot be started until 11 of Consort’s banks have signed an agreement to hand over the ERI’s main car park, which is currently in the hands of the firm.
The new Sick Kids and Department of Clinical Neurosciences (DCN) will be built there, and in return NHS Lothian will turn another plot of land into a car park and transfer it to Consort. However, at present only ten of the 11 banks have signed.
Last week, NHS Lothian said it was consulting lawyers over Consort’s failings at the ERI, and there are fears that the failing relations could lead to a knock-on effect in the negotiations over the land swap.
Mr Waterson said: “You’ve got to imagine that the relationship between the two organisations will be strained and will put further pressure on negotiations and mean that the Sick Kids will be delayed further, if in indeed built at all.”
Ms Boyack said she was also concerned about the potential for delays. “I’m really worried about the lack of progress on being able to get the land and I’m worried about repeated delays on this project. Last week’s events are not going to help make progress, so I think we need Nicola Sturgeon to act on getting the Sick Kids project moving.”
Jackie Sansbury, chief operating officer for NHS Lothian, said: “We are meeting our PFI provider Consort this week to discuss recent incidents in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. These discussions are completely separate from those that are taking place with Consort about the preliminary works for our new hospital for children and young people and department of clinical neurosciences (DCN) and the land at the Little France site.
“We are fully committed to building our new children and young people’s hospital and DCN at Little France and we are continuing to move forward with this important project.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it remained committed to using the NPD private funding model to pay for the new Sick Kids.
She said: “It is incorrect to directly compare the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary contract with the plans to build the Sick Kids hospital.
“The Non-Profit Distributing model is our preferred option because it ensures that the profits private sector companies can make are capped and gives the public sector more involvement in the management of the project.
“Mistakes made with historic PFI contracts will not be repeated with Non-Profit Distribution.
“The business case for the [Glasgow] Southern General was approved in April 2008 and legally committed to before the outcome of the UK spending review was announced – but we are now facing a 32 per cent real terms reduction of capital budget and the use of Non-Profit Distribution will mean that the delivery of Royal Hospital Sick Children can go ahead.
“It has also allowed us to increase the scope of the project to include the Department of Clinical Neurosciences.”
Sick kids in Edinburgh deserve the same resources as those in Glasgow.
We were promised that and then the Scottish Government pulled all the funding and gave it to Glasgow.
This has been going on for too long and the Health Secretary needs to clarify when we will get our Sick Kids hospital.
It is not a ramshackle building – it is one of the most respected children’s hospitals in the world but we need to maintain that. The professionalism of the staff there needs to be matched by the resources, equipment and buildings.
They have been talking about the Scottish Futures Trust for too long. If it worked we would have had the hospital by now.
The Scotland Bill will give the government more borrowing powers – perhaps they should use them to deliver the publicly funded Sick Kids hospital they promised.”