Water coolers are set to be removed from hospital wards across the Lothians in a bid to save money.
Thirsty patients and visitors will be left to ask busy staff for water or buy drinks from vending machines or canteens from next month.
And staff who do not have a kitchen in their ward or office will have to leave their work area to grab a drink.
The move - which is expected to save tens of thousands of pounds a year to invest back into frontline services - comes just months after ERI staff had to face “sweltering” conditions as temperatures in parts of the hospital to 30C.
Hospital bosses said the move, which is the subject of staff consultation, would not only save money, but also reduce the risk of spreading infections.
The health board is struggling to meet this year’s savings target of £39.4 million, with a shortfall of £4m in the first six months.
With mains supplies as an alternative, the health board is looking at removing most dispensers from all its sites.
Tom Waterson, Unison branch chairman for Lothian, said it was unreasonable to take them away from the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in particular, where there is no air-conditioning.
He said the measures would force staff from wards, potentially putting patients at risk, and questioned the amount it would save.
He added: “It is ridiculous when they know how hot it gets in summer. It is unbearable at times.
“They’re currently on the wards and in departments so staff don’t have to go away to get a drink of water. I don’t think it makes any sense in terms of health and safety to take them away.
“Visitors aren’t allowed to go into the kitchens so what are they supposed to do? I don’t think it’s a good thing for anyone.”
One nurse, who did not want to be named, denied management claims that staff were given regular water breaks.
She said: “It’s absolute rubbish. We don’t have time to take breaks and aren’t allowed bottled water on the wards. This was the one way of cooling down when it was really hot.”
The health board was unable to provide details of how many of the coolers it is looking to scrap or the predicted cost savings, but a similar movein Wales, involving 180 of the plug-in machines, was set to net the health trust £65,000 annually in reduced outgoings and electricity bills.
Lothian MSP Sarah Boyack, who is running for the Scottish Labour leadership, said: “These proposals seem to underline the lengths that NHS Lothian feels it has to stretch to in order to meet the savings targets being placed upon it.”
Dr Jean Turner, executive director of Scotland Patient Association, said she would welcome the move if it saved any frontline services.
“We have good, soft water in Scotland so I don’t see the need for water coolers if there is good access to tap water,” she added.
Robert Aitken, associate director of facilities for NHS Lothian, said consultation was ongoing.
He said: “There have been no water quality issues raised to date, but we are hoping to reduce any future risks to health and safety. The review could also free up more money to be channelled directly back into frontline services.”