ERI patients moved after chemical spillage

Emergency crews spent about three hours cleaning up the corrosive chemical spill at the Royal Infirmary. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Emergency crews spent about three hours cleaning up the corrosive chemical spill at the Royal Infirmary. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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A DOZEN people had to be treated and two wards partially evacuated after a corrosive chemical spill at Edinburgh’s largest hospital.

Emergency workers spent more than seven hours yesterday dealing with the sodium hypochlorite spill that occurred near the basement of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

The worst-affected person was admitted to hospital after being exposed to chemical fumes, but was believed to be in a serious yet stable condition last night.

The remaining 11 people were treated in the accident and emergency department. They had been discharged by about 5:30pm yesterday. In all 74 patients had to be evacuated from two wards close to the affected unit in efforts to limit the public health risk.

The chemical, which is used as a hospital disinfectant, emits toxic fumes when mixed with a variety of everyday substances.

Side effects of breathing in the fumes include irritation of the eyes and nose, sore throat, cough, chest tightness, headaches and confusion. Watering eyes, pain, swelling, blisters and vomiting can all result from longer periods of exposure.

About 30 firefighters attended the scene, with emergency services alerted to the spill at 10.35am. Chemical suits were worn by crew members involved in cleaning up the harmful substance.

A Scottish Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman said the authority could not confirm whether all of the 12 affected people had inhaled fumes, come into physical contact with the chemical or ingested the substance.

Those who required treatment were all staff and were a mixture of NHS Lothian employees and on-site

contractors.

The spokeswoman said: “The chemical was sodium hypochlorite. One of the casualties was taken into A&E and approximately 74 patients were evacuated to another part of the hospital.”

The spill was contained by 2pm. Patients who had been moved while the clean-up was taking place were then taken back to their original wards.

NHS Lothian ERI hospital director Lyn McDonald said: “We were alerted by our PFI partners Consort this morning to a suspected chemical incident within a non-patient area of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.”

Ms McDonald added: “We have implemented well rehearsed business continuity plans and as a precautionary measure moved some patients away from two wards directly above the affected area to other wards within the hospital.”

Scotland’s public sector union Unison, which represents thousands of NHS Lothian workers, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The incident comes just three months after patients had to be evacuated from two ERI wards following a gas scare.

The gas known as RM200, which is typically used to put out fires, was released when an alarm went off in an IT room on September 4.

A major investigation into the incident later found there had been a serious breakdown in communication between the private firm that runs the hospital and NHS workers.