A PENSIONER suffered a serious fall while attempting to visit a new multi-million pound health centre – because an underpass designed to provide safe access has not been built yet.
Mary Sutherland was walking to the Wester Hailes Healthy Living Centre, which opened in August, with sister Margaret for a doctor’s appointment when she slipped on steps as she approached the building, causing broken bones in her foot and ankle.
The £12 million building opened ahead of schedule but plans for a safe access underpass, which links the Westside Plaza shopping centre to the health centre, was hit with delays after community campaigners criticised original plans and authorities became embroiled in a wrangle with landowners.
Ms Sutherland, 69, described the current access, which involves negotiating steep steps, as dangerous and said interim safety measures should be put in place until the new one is ready.
Following the fall on September 23, she had her foot and ankle put in a cast and says she will be confined to her Broomhouse home for at least six weeks. She said: “I was just taking my sister to the health centre. We were going down the stairs, then I don’t know what happened. I couldn’t get my foot to move or get up, it was traumatic.
After suffering the fall, Ms Sutherland’s sister and a neighbour helped her to the health centre, where a nurse told her to go to A&E. Mary said: “I would say it’s dangerous. I’m getting on for 70 and I wouldn’t like to imagine any older people going down those steps, especially if they use a stick. The first time I went there the footpath was covered in muck and when winter comes in people will slip over. It’s the only way you can get to the centre. I’d heard they were making a ramp but it’s never materialised. There’s no point having a nice new health centre if there’s no decent place to get to it.”
An original plan for an underpass was criticised in the summer of last year as it was too narrow for wheelchair use or parents with prams, while there were also fears it could become a crime hotspot.
Progress stalled after the leaseholders of the Westside Plaza demanded £10,000 a year in compensation for use of car parking spaces needed to build an expanded approach.
The issue was resolved when the pension fund for confectionary giant Mars took over the site and agreed to allow the use of parking spaces, but the episode meant construction of the underpass will not be completed until next year.
Advice issued by NHS Lothian states that the direct approach includes a “small flight of steps” and that “there is a pedestrian pavement alongside the south west exit route from the Plaza car park which can be used in order to avoid these steps”.
A council spokesman said: “We are sorry to hear about Ms Sutherland’s fall. The council has agreed to the development of the underpass at a cost of £600,000 to £800,000. The underpass, which will be an open, visible and disability-friendly ramp leading right to the Healthy Living Centre, is due to be complete next year.”