Architect behind Sick Children Hospital warns designs are ‘seriously flawed’

Equipment at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh. Picture; Jane Barlow
Equipment at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh. Picture; Jane Barlow
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The architect behind a flagship children’s hospital which has had construction delayed for six months has blasted managers for giving patients a building that is “not as good as it could be”.

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Robert Menzies has claimed construction of the new Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh was rushed despite several warning the designs were “seriously flawed”.

He said this was due to pressure to meet deadlines, which led managers in charge of the hospital to ignore potential problems.

And Mr Menzies, a now retired healthcare architect, said complaints made by doctors that the layout would be “totally useless” and “completely unacceptable” were ignored by NHS managers.

He said that flaws in the plans included columns in the middle of rooms, lack of natural light in bedrooms and difficulties using the central atrium as a dual purpose outpatients’ waiting room and exhibition space with patients’ cinema.

Mr Menzies was working for BMJ Architects in Glasgow when the firm was hired by NHS Lothian and Nightingale Associates to create a template design, known as an exemplar, for the new children’s hospital in Edinburgh.

The exemplar is used as a guide layout by architects bidding for a construction contract.

But Mr Menzies said the process was complicated by several redesigns as Lothian health board switched from wanting just a children’s hospital to adding an extension of the existing adult neurological department to the site.

The unit was ditched before then being added again when the project went from being publicly-funded to a PFI scheme.

He said he became increasingly concerned that flaws in the design were not being ironed out because of pressure to keep to schedule.

He said: “There was pressure to get this up and running. The problem with the exemplar design system is that you’re rushing to meet a deadline and you don’t have time to work things out.

“During the exemplar design process I attended room layout meetings with clinicians where the comments on some layouts varied from ‘totally useless’ to ‘completely unacceptable’.

“Yet at bid stage we were told that the clinicians had signed off the relevant department layouts so it had to be built that way.

“Building an underground car park and service area on a flood plain is also not a good idea and adds significantly to costs.

“Our team therefore developed an alternative set of plans to remedy these issues. However this strategy was rejected by the project managers who reiterated that the exemplar design had to be followed.

“Judging by the plans submitted for planning this appears to be more or less what’s being built.”

Mr Menzies, who was also involved in the design of the new Glasgow Sick Kids’ Hospital, was unsuccessful in winning the construction contract, and believes his team lost out because it was “quicker and easier” for for the health board to stick to the original layout.

The hospital will now open six months behind schedule inb spring 2018 due to what NHS Lothian describes as “unavoidable technical construction problems” as well as poor weather and financial issues affecting two of the contractors.

A spokeswoman for the health board said the “technical construction problems” were unrelated to the building’s design.