Edinburgh eye hospital: Poor conditions at current Eye Pavilion putting eye health at risk, warn charities

Charities issue warning as they launch petition calling on Scottish Government to commit to funding new eye hospital without further delay
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Two of Scotland’s oldest sight loss charities have warned that people’s eye health is being put at risk because of the current poor facilities at Edinburgh’s Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion.

The building in Chalmers Street was declared no longer fit for purpose in 2014 and although a new eye hospital has been promised, there is no timetable for its construction. Now Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans have launched a campaign, calling on the Scottish Government to commit to funding the new hospital without further delay. And they are asking people to support the campaign by signing a petition.

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Craig Spalding, chief executive of two charities, said: “We’ve heard first-hand the mounting concerns about the current eye hospital in Edinburgh. The Scottish Government declared the building unfit for use in 2014, yet nine years on all we’ve had is empty promises to establish a new facility.

Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion on Chalmers Street was declared unfit for purpose in 2014.    Picture: Greg MacveanPrincess Alexandra Eye Pavilion on Chalmers Street was declared unfit for purpose in 2014.    Picture: Greg Macvean
Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion on Chalmers Street was declared unfit for purpose in 2014. Picture: Greg Macvean

"The medical staff and doctors are under increasing pressure to deliver services in extremely challenging conditions, ultimately impacting the quality-of-care patients receive. We’re really worried about reports of out-of-order lifts and leaks from the ceiling, causing a major risk to patient safety. People in Edinburgh and the Lothians deserve better. We’re calling on the Scottish Government to commit to a new hospital in the upcoming funding review to ensure people can access eye healthcare services they desperately need.”

And Edinburgh resident Ronnie Wilkies, who is visually impaired and a Sight Scotland policy group member, said: “The eye health of people in the Edinburgh area is being neglected. I had an appointment in the Eye Pavilion and myself, the doctor and group of students had to evacuate the consultation room because of a severe leak from the roof.

"After that experience it was such good news when the plans for the new hospital were announced, but it seems yet again, this could all be undone. The west of Scotland has at least four quality eye healthcare facilities and frankly it would be a travesty if the east of the country were not to receive funding for a new hospital. There would be so much scope in building a new hospital to encompass teaching and many other services too for people with eye conditions.”

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A new eye hospital in the Capital was promised by the Scottish Government in 2018, but two years later it withdrew funding from the project. An outcry at the decision prompted a U-turn by the then First Minster Nicola Sturgeon during the 2021 Holyrood election campaign, when she announced it would be funded after all. In September 2021 a timetable of “key milestone” said the new hospital would be completed in September 2026, opening to patients in December 2026. But In April 2022 a report to the NHS Lothian board put the date a full six months later at June 2027. That later slipped to “late 2027”. And now the project has been paused while a review of capital spending is carried out.

Sight Scotland, along with RNIB Scotland and local campaigners, recently attended a meeting which Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack had arranged with Health Secretary Michael Matheson, but said he had provided little clarity on timescales for the new building and had indicated the project might be dropped in the next round of capital grant funding before the end of 2023.

Hazel Kelly, chair of Corstorphine Connect Sight Loss Group, and also a founding member of campaign group KEEP (Keep Edinburgh Eye Pavilion), said there was an urgent need for a new eye hospital: She said: “My experience of the current building is it is really tired and rundown, and having had several eye operations, where I had to stay for three days or longer in an open ward with toilets and washing facilities down a long corridor, this is certainly not ideal for patients with eye issues. In addition, at one point I had an operation cancelled due to a leaking roof. We urgently need a new Eye Hospital before other people have similar experiences."

Ms Boyack said: “The current eye hospital building is a grave area for concern with real risks to patient safety due to leaking roofs and broken lifts. With growing numbers of people living with sight loss and median waiting times for ophthalmology now at 14 weeks, a new eye hospital in Edinburgh is desperately needed.”