SERVICES from two under-threat city hospitals are to be shifted to a facility that was mothballed and earmarked for sale because health chiefs say it is more up-to-date.
It emerged that NHS Lothian plans to close beds for elderly patients at Astley Ainslie and Corstorphine hospitals, with NHS bosses becoming concerned that the ageing buildings pose a fire risk and increase the spread of infections.
Instead, more beds are to be opened at the Royal Victoria Hospital – which was shut down in August 2012 only to be reopened the following November in what NHS Lothian claimed was an emergency measure to cope with a winter beds crisis.
The hospital has remained open and the health board has revealed it intends to pursue a “continued redevelopment” and rely on it for years to come.
Four wards are open, providing care for elderly patients and increased capacity over winter. Plans say two more wards will open by the spring, increasing the number of beds from 78 to 120, with the winter beds to stay in use.
NHS Lothian board members will be asked tomorrow to approve the transfer of services to the refurbished Royal Victoria Hospital, saying it offers “more up-to-date premises which offer improved safety, quality and patient experience”.
However, Sarah Boyack, Labour Lothians MSP, said that an NHS Lothian document setting out the proposals gave the impression health chiefs were talking about “a new site with modern facilities” when referring to the Royal Victoria.
“It is a remarkable turn-around for a hospital that only 18 months ago was deemed surplus to requirements, not fit for purpose and set for sale,” she said. “The indecision surrounding the Royal Victoria goes to the heart of capacity issues at NHS Lothian.”
The health board has admitted that the plan relies upon reducing bed blocking rates, which have spiralled in recent years.
Ms Boyack added: “It is vital that the board continues to invest to bring facilities back up to standard. The proposal relies on the end of delayed discharges, but that’s what forced the reopening of the Royal Victoria in the first place.
“So we need clear assurances that the hospital has the capacity and facilities to cope with the services being transferred across from Astley Ainslie, Corstorphine and elsewhere.”
By the time the wards are reopened, it is estimated NHS Lothian will have spent between £500,000 and £750,000 on the Royal Victoria Hospital building since it was reopened.
It is argued that because the refurbished wards allow patients to be cared for in single rooms or four to six-bed bays with modern toilet and hygiene facilities, the threat of infection spreading between patients will be reduced.
The new policy, which is likely to involve the transfer of the elderly between sites, will follow consultation with patients and their families and scrutiny from the Scottish Government.
Melanie Johnson, NHS Lothian’s director of unscheduled care, said: “The significant investment in improving the facilities at the Royal Victoria Hospital has been made easier by the fact the hospital has not been fully operational.
“Moving some services from the Astley Ainslie Hospital and Corstorphine Hospital will allow us to continue to provide safe, high-quality care for patients in a more modern healthcare environment.”