A HOSPITAL shut down earlier this year and earmarked for sale and redevelopment is to be reopened to patients – because Edinburgh Royal Infirmary cannot cope with demand.
The old Royal Victoria Hospital, which closed in August, is being brought back into service as a result of increasing emergency admissions, the growing problem of bed-blocking and the norovirus winter vomiting bug.
NHS Lothian said two wards at the hospital would be reopened within the next few weeks, but more could be brought back into use as time goes on, if necessary.
The drastic U-turn on the mothballed hospital has been branded “crisis management”, sparking concerns about the condition of the building and whether there would be enough staff to man it.
In a statement, NHS Lothian said: “Wards in the Royal Victoria Hospital will be reopened to provide extra capacity for the expected increase in the number of patients over the next few months.
“It comes as the Royal Infirmary is facing increasing pressure from emergency admissions. The situation is then being exacerbated by the numbers of delayed discharge patients and other issues, such as the winter vomiting virus norovirus.”
The statement said the contingency plan was drawn up as part of routine winter planning, which in previous years had seen bed numbers increased on other sites, including Astley Ainslie Hospital, the Royal Victoria and Liberton Hospital.
NHS Lothian’s statement said it had been recognised that the population increase in Lothian was making it increasingly difficult for the capacity of the ERI to cope and extra capacity was required to ensure that a safe service could continue to be provided.
“However, the plans that are in place will take some months to achieve and it has been decided to provide a temporary alternative that will allow NHS Lothian to continue to provide safe, patient-centred care over the busy months ahead.”
But Lothians Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said the move smacked of crisis management.
She said: “This shows the pressure the NHS is under in terms of bed capacity at the ERI. To bring the old Royal Victoria back into use is a sign that there simply are not enough beds in the city to get us through the winter.
“What condition is the building in? And will there be enough staff, given the number of NHS nursing staff they have got rid of over the last few years?”
Edinburgh Southern SNP MSP Jim Eadie said he had no worries about the quality of care patients would receive, but claimed the reopening of the Royal Victoria did raise questions about NHS Lothian’s planning.
He said: “Patients in Edinburgh will rightly want to ask how this has come about and why the board’s own planning processes appear to have failed to anticipate the demands that would be placed on acute hospital services.”
Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald said the problem dated back to there not being enough beds in the ERI when it opened at Little France.
She said there may have been “a certain amount of short-term thinking” in recent years and she hoped that would now be corrected.
Ms MacDonald said: “The message they should take from it is that the assumptions that were made, maybe even a year ago, are now redundant and they have to step up expectations and the number of beds provided.
“This is a growing area – more people are coming to live in Lothian.”
One NHS insider today estimated the about-turn would cost the health service “a small fortune”.
He said: “The norovirus has caused so much extra pressure on capacity and that’s one of the key reasons behind this embarrassing decision. No doubt it’s been made at a huge cost, with obvious questions over safety and why it was allowed to shut in the first place.
“To be honest, it shows just how desperate for beds they are. One of the downsides to this option is apparently the Vicky’s boiler has been vandalised or stolen completely, meaning it will be a massive job to heat the place.”
The Royal Victoria closed in August after the last ward moved on to different sites within NHS Lothian, including the new Royal Victoria building at the Western General Hospital and the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.
Last month, campaigners welcomed a decision that certain buildings and mature trees on the Royal Victoria site, along with access for the local community, should be protected, but they voiced disappointment that the building was to be sold off for development.
The reopening of the Royal Victoria comes less than two weeks after Health Secretary Alex Neil said, following NHS Lothian’s annual performance review, that people in the area had been on the receiving end of a “second division” NHS service.
A critical report earlier this year found bullying was rife in some areas of NHS Lothian.
The Evening News revealed earlier this month that nurses in Lothian are taking a record amount of time off due to stress, anxiety or depression.
There has also been controversy over plans to fly patients abroad for complicated operations because hospitals here can’t treat them on time.
Margaret Watt, of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “Something is seriously wrong in NHS Lothian. Everything seems to be piling in and no-one seems to know which way to go.”
But she said it would be sensible to use the Royal Victoria to house older patients whose discharge had been delayed because arrangements were not in place for them to be cared for at home.
She said: “We suggested some time ago that the so-called bed-blocking patients could be transferred to that unit and it could be used as a convalescent unit until their care plans are worked out.”
Melanie Hornett, nurse director at NHS Lothian, said: “We have taken a long, hard look at the facilities and resources we have available as part of our winter planning exercises and we know we don’t have the abilities to meet demand. As a result, we have put this temporary solution in place to allow us to serve patients in a timely manner, while increasing our capacity from within.”
BOSSES REVEAL PAEDIATRICIAN SHORTFALL
HEALTH bosses have admitted they are facing a shortage of trainee paediatricians in the Lothians.
A total of 47 senior trainees are needed for out-of-hours cover across south-east Scotland but projections for February suggest there will only be 34 available.
Leaders of the South East and Tayside Planning Group (SEAT) identified NHS Lothian, Fife and Borders as areas affected by the shortage and said a report detailing options for children’s and maternity services would be presented in the coming weeks. In a joint statement, SEAT said: “The paediatric workforce is managed on a regional basis to ensure safe and sustainable services across the region.
“NHS Lothian, NHS Fife, NHS Borders and NHS Education for Scotland’s South East Region (also part of SEAT) are working together and in partnership with stakeholders, to decide how best to deploy the workforce to provide safe and sustainable care for children and babies across South East Scotland, now and in the future.
“A paper detailing options for the future provision of children’s and maternity services across the region will be presented to the NHS Lothian Board at its November 28 meeting, to the NHS Borders Board on December 6 and to the NHS Fife Board on December 18.”
SEAT bosses said the shortage was due to a reduction in the number of hours trainee doctors can work in accordance with the European Working Time Directive, the loss of experienced trainees who had taken specialist opportunities elsewhere and a lack of locum doctors to fill gaps after changes to UK immigration rules.
Paediatric and maternity services are currently provided at the Sick Kids hospital and the Simpson Centre for Reproductive Health in Edinburgh, St John’s Hospital in Livingston, Kirkcaldy’s Victoria Hospital and Borders General in Melrose.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have made it clear to NHS Lothian that we expect them to work closely with service users and stakeholders to ensure children and babies get the safest and most
effective care possible.”
Riccarton secures blood service centre
A NEW national centre for blood, tissues and cells testing is to be built in the Capital after being approved by the Scottish Government.
The £36.4 million purpose-built National Centre for the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS) will be located at Heriot-Watt Research Park.
Health Secretary Alex Neil said: “Having the right facilities in the right place is important to people across Scotland and that is why we are determined to ensure our blood service is delivered from state-of-the-art facilities.
“This new purpose-built facility will help to centralise the processing and testing of the blood which people across Scotland are donating to help others, and will help to ensure the future supply of blood, tissues and cells for all patients.
“It will also deliver investment and opportunities to the local community, and will mean we can continue to provide sustainable, high quality and continually improving healthcare services to patients across Scotland.”
Mary Morgan, director of the SNBTS, said: “SNBTS is one of the oldest blood services in the world, and has been at the forefront of innovations for decades. This is a very exciting time for the development of life sciences in Scotland
“This new national centre enables us to modernise not only to carry on providing safe blood, tissues and cells, but also to continue to pursue and discover vital new cellular technologies which can transform patients’ lives in the years ahead.”