A ROGUE fly has shut down an operating theatre at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for the second time in five months – amid claims the hospital is home to 100 feral pigeons.
Shocked hospital staff discovered the fly in the sterile area on Friday, forcing the closure of the theatre and causing a patient to have their operation cancelled.
It follows a similar incident in June, when two theatres were shut for 11 days by flies from a maggot-infested pigeon carcass in a roof cavity above operating areas, and comes at a time when NHS Lothian is already struggling to cope with demand at the hospital.
Tom Waterson, Unison branch chair for Lothian, said he had seen a report from a specialist pest control contractor claiming a colony of 100 feral pigeons are living in the Royal Infirmary.
It is thought the birds gain access to internal areas through holes in guttering and that previous unsuccessful efforts had been made to eradicate them from the site.
But NHS Lothian denied Mr Waterson’s claims and said that while pigeons had been common on hospital roofs, there had been no infestation within internal areas.
Mr Waterson reacted furiously to the denial, which he said “beggars belief”.
He said: “It’s clear that there is a colony of 100 pigeons in the roof space at the Royal Infirmary at Little France. I know that NHS Lothian and Consort [the PFI firm that owns the hospital and runs maintenance] know that. To say any different is being economical with the truth, to put it mildly.
“I have raised this at the last two partnership forum meetings and they have admitted that there is a problem. I have seen a report that confirms there’s a colony of 100 birds.
“There’s no evidence as yet that this latest incident has been caused by a dead pigeon. However, given that they still have a problem with pigeons and there’s been another infestation of flies, I can only assume that they are linked.”
Mr Waterson said that the report followed a survey in the summer, which was commissioned by Consort following the June incident.
He claimed the contractor had said pigeons had been accessing plant rooms at the ERI for several years, and that many of the birds had been born on the site and considered the hospital their home, making the task of getting rid of them more difficult.
Mr Waterson said the contractor had raised concerns that the presence of the birds could create significant health and safety issues at the hospital, and recommended a series of measures, including cleaning pigeon fouling and treating areas with pesticides to wipe out insects as well as trapping birds and releasing them far away from the grounds.
He also criticised NHS Lothian and Consort for not dealing fully with the situation sooner and blamed them for the latest theatre closure.
Reacting to the news, Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said: “It is incredible that a theatre has had to be closed again for a problem that has clearly not been dealt with effectively. Given the massive pressure that NHS services are under, this is simply unacceptable. I’d like to know what the consequences are for the company responsible.”
Independent MSP Margo MacDonald added: “I have heard pigeons at the Royal being talked about in the past. If it’s true that as a result of this a health hazard has been caused or a theatre closed, there has to be a programme that swings into place at the first sign of anything being wrong.
“It sounds like it’s under control this time, but if it’s happening on a regular basis there needs to be a permanent solution.”
Friday’s closure of the operating theatre came the same week that health chiefs admitted that the ERI is struggling to cope with winter pressures.
The cancellation of the patient’s operation because of the insect is in addition to at least 15 that were cancelled in November due to the strain the hospital is under.
NHS chief executive Tim Davison has admitted that the hospital is performing “disproportionately poorly” and warned that it is “uniquely compromised in its ability to care for patients coming through the front door” due to capacity issues.
George Curley, director of operations in facilities at NHS Lothian, admitted one fly had been discovered during a routine check, and that the theatre had been shut as a precautionary measure. It reopened on Saturday.
He added: “A public health investigation and risk assessment was immediately carried out and patients were never put at risk. Investigations continue as to a potential source.
“A previous infestation of flies was dealt with earlier this year. All but one of the patients who were due to undergo surgery have been accommodated in other theatres and I would like to apologise to that patient for the inconvenience.
“We will continue to work with our PFI provider Consort to ensure that the problem is fully rectified.”
A Consort spokesman did not want to comment.
By Gary Clarkson, Bird Environmental Services Ltd and former quantity surveyor.
It is extremely common for pigeons to roost in large buildings such as hospitals, especially in cities such as Edinburgh.
We have carried out work in hospitals across the country. Anywhere with food or shelter, you will find pigeons. Most of the time they won’t bother humans, but they can pose a health risk. If there’s an access point, it’s common that birds will get in there. They can be there for a number of years and the first anyone will know about it is when they smell them, hear them or worse still get an insect infestation.
We had a job at a retail shop where the first thing they knew about it was when maggots started dropping from the ceiling. If the birds are born there they will return, so the longer the problem goes on the worse it can get.
It’s not just fouling, there’s nesting debris, carcasses, eggs and other things.
The first thing we would do is identify where the infestation is and any access points. You’ve got to get the live birds out and stop them returning. Depending on the building, that can be very easy or very complicated.
If there is an infestation above an operating theatre, that will represent a significant risk.”
• September 2003: Power failure leaves the hospital without electricity for an hour and intensive care monitoring systems fail.
• October 2003: The hospital’s power fails for 30 minutes after an electrical surge in a storm.
• August 2006: ERI declared the second dirtiest hospital in Scotland and NHS Lothian is reported to be considering quitting its deal with Consort.
• October 2007: Some of the hospital’s panic alarms break down, and Consort makes a deliberate decision not to inform NHS staff.
• September 2011: Consort and NHS Lothian communication is criticised after inspectors find dirty wards and toilets.
• December 2011: A baby is born by torchlight as power fails in the birthing unit.
• January 2012: It emerges that Consort has cleared 580 staff to work without carrying out criminal background checks.
• March 2012: An operation has to be completed by torchlight after power is cut off in the operating theatre.
• June 2012: Two operating theatres shut after flies are discovered, and another closes due to a leaking roof.