HEALTH chiefs have heavily criticised the private firm which runs Edinburgh Royal Infirmary after it failed to inform them that smoke alarms at the hospital had been broken for more than a week.
The Evening News has learned that safety devices around ten surgical theatres, changing rooms and offices would not have detected a fire because of a fault in the system.
Consort – the firm which runs non-clinical services at the hospital – failed to notify health chiefs for eight days. The issue only arose after an NHS Lothian employee raised concerns that the area was not connected to central fire control on Tuesday.
Consort – which is paid £50 million a year to operate the ERI – was hauled into urgent talks with the health board and an investigation is under way to ensure there is no repeat.
The revelation comes just weeks after the Evening News revealed how Consort had cleared staff to work without carrying out criminal background checks.
Today, Consort admitted there had “clearly” been a failure over the smoke alarms but blamed Balfour Beatty Workplace for the problem. Balfour Beatty Workplace is part of Balfour Beatty, Consort’s parent company.
Extra staff were brought in to operate 24-hour patrols around the affected area until the problem was resolved yesterday afternoon.
Union bosses slated Consort for the fault, having previously highlighted that some panic buttons at the hospital failed to work. Unison branch chairman Tom Waterson said: “Patients should be extremely concerned that they were potentially put at risk by Consort and Balfour Beatty’s failure to tell the health board about this defect.
“We accept that things break but not taking control of the situation is unacceptable.”
He added: “There were concerns raised in October that panic alarms had gone down and staff were not informed. In December we were assured that if any system that went down, fire, security, or anything, we would be alerted immediately. That hasn’t happened.”
Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack, who has raised a string of problems at the ERI with Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon at Holyrood, said: “I’m concerned it appears this fault was unreported for days. That is unacceptable. Patient safety must be absolutely paramount. I hope this issue is investigated properly.”
Jackie Sansbury, chief operating officer at NHS Lothian, said that while patient safety had not been compromised, Consort had operated outwith normal procedure.
She said: “The safety of all patients, staff and visitors is of prime importance and they were never put at risk at any time because of the initial actions put in place by Consort. However, we have strict guidelines and protocols in place regarding escalation to ensure the necessary people are aware of issues and these were not followed.
“As soon as the fault was raised with us we took instant action to ensure security staff were permanently positioned in each of the affected areas to raise the alarm if necessary.
“The issue is now rectified and normal services resumed.”
A spokeswoman for Consort said: “Clearly, there was a failure by our FM provider, Balfour Beatty Workplace, to communicate a problem with the fire alarm system at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, to Consort and NHS Lothian.
“As a result of the failure, BBW put in place contingency measures by increasing security patrols to perform fire watch until the repair was completed. The system is now fully functional.
“Consort initiated an immediate investigation with BBW regarding this issue including a review of their processes to ensure any similar problems are not repeated. This is being closely monitored by Consort.”