Cost of Edinburgh's new eye hospital had climbed to £83 million before government pulled plug
An initial agreement was reached between the government and NHS Lothian in 2018 on relocating the Eye Pavilion from its site in Chalmers Street to Little France, next to the Royal Infirmary, but ministers have now told the health board they will not fund the new building.
They say instead eyecare services should be dispersed around the region, including to a new elective care centre being built next to St John's Hospital in Livingston.
The government said in November 2017, ahead of the initial agreement, NHS Lothian had put the cost of replacing the Eye Pavilion at £68.6m.
When a £45m construction contract was awarded in July 2018, NHS Lothian said the total cost of the project was £68.5m.
But by the time the business case for the new Eye Pavilion was submitted to ministers in April 2019, the price had jumped to £83m – a rise of more than 20 per cent in under a year.
The government said the business case was never approved because it failed to recognise that eyecare services were increasingly being delivered in the community.
But Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs said it was still not clear whether the government’s withdrawal from the project was a health decision or a financial one.
"They say services should be redesigned, but they haven't been honest about whether they just want to cut money from NHS Lothian.”
He said the government had increased capital spending on heath in this week’s budget. “So why are we seeing this cut in Lothian?” he asked. “What have we done wrong in Edinburgh to deserve the lowest funding per head of population and now this cash grab by not replacing a building no longer fit for purpose?”
And he claimed the issue was linked to the costs involved in the much-delayed new Sick Kids hospital.
“At the heart of all this is the Sick Kids project and although ministers have said Lothian won’t financially be worse off, there are growing questions on whether this has impacted on the health board taking forward these projects or whether ministers are giving with one hand by bailing out the Sicks Kids project and now taking away with the other, snatching the £45m which was going to go to the new Eye Pavilion. All these projects are inter-linked.”
A government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish government did not make any commitment to fund a replacement for the Eye Pavilion, the estimated cost of which had increased to £83 million by 2019.
“NHS Lothian’s business case for a new eye hospital was rejected due to concerns with its proposed service model, which did not recognise that the way eye care services are delivered is changing and improving with more being carried out in the community, closer to patients and with appropriate use of new technology.
“That’s why we asked NHS Lothian to carry out a review of their eye care services as a whole and reconsider how they should be delivered and what they can do with their existing buildings and the new elective care centre. We await their recommendations and proposals.”