NHS chiefs urged to scrap Consort facilities contract

NHS Lothian is considering legal action
NHS Lothian is considering legal action
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HEALTH bosses were today urged to take the maintenance contract for Edinburgh Royal Infirmary back in-house after the blunder by Consort which plunged two operating theatres into darkness, leaving one patient to be stitched up by torchlight.

NHS Lothian revealed staff had to ventilate the patient by hand after Consort cut off the power supply.

The incident was the latest in a series of problems and the health board has threatened legal action against the company, which built and runs the hospital under a private finance initiative (PFI) contract.

Dave Watson, head of campaigns with public service union Unison, said: “NHS Lothian should now be seeking an exit from this failed arrangement with Consort and at the very least be looking to bring facilities management at ERI back in-house.”

He acknowledged it would be “very difficult” to terminate the contract altogether because of the huge amount of money involved.

Under the PFI deal, NHS Lothian pays Consort £60 million a year and by 2028 will have handed over £1.26 billion.

Mr Watson said it would be possible for the board to negotiate an end to the maintenance element of the contract.

He said: “The board would then have the option of finding another facilities management provider or, more realistically, taking it in-house.

“We’ve consistently criticised PFI in general, and the set up at ERI. It’s a costly and inefficient way of delivering services.”

In England, one of the firms which funded a £400m PFI hospital in Coventry had its lucrative maintenance deal scrapped over a major safety breach. Skanska was stripped of the contract after hospital bosses found a ventilation fault in a laboratory which could have put staff in danger if a chemical or sample spill occurred.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon backed NHS Lothian’s move to seek legal advice.

She said: “It is unacceptable this company, which is paid vast amounts of public money, is not performing to the standard expected of it.

“NHS Lothian has signalled they are going to consult their lawyers and I think they are right to do that.”

Professor Allyson Pollock, former professor of international public health policy at Edinburgh University and now based at London University, said the problem in trying to end a PFI contract was the high cost to the taxpayer.

She said: “They must publish the contract in full and show all risks, liabilities and cash flows. This is a scandal, but project finance is as much an SNP policy as it is Treasury policy.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have been clear that historic PFI contracts simply do not serve the public interest.”

COMPLETE FAILURE

THE power blackout at the ERI led to a complete failure of all the electronic equipment in two operating theatres.

NHS Lothian said a patient, who was unconscious and under general anaesthetic, was given oxygen by hand while surgeons completed the operation by torchlight.

The power supply was switched off by Consort when it started scheduled maintenance early.

Alan Boyter, NHS Lothian’s executive director, said: “The patient was hand-ventilated for one-and-a-half minutes in the dark and then for a further nine-and-a-half minutes using torches.”

Consort’s Stephen Gordon said power had been disrupted for ten minutes. He said: “Consort has taken this incident very seriously and undertaken a thorough investigation.”