Edinburgh operations halted: Sterilisation centre has been subject of concern for years

Concerns about the NHS sterilisation centre where a water leak has halted operations at hospitals throughout Lothian have been voiced for years, an MSP has claimed.

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The temporary closure of the centre at Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary - which supplies clean medical instruments across the region - threatened to force the cancellation of non-emergency operations for up to four weeks, but health chiefs last week said they had secured capacity elsewhere which means they expected operations to return to normal by the end of last week.

Lothian Tory MSP Sue Webber pointed to papers from the June meeting of the NHS Lothian board which said "there had been concerns about the sustainability of the HSDU (Hospital Sterilisation and Decontamination Unit) for some time and this had been raised with the chair of the Healthcare Governance Committee in May 2019".

Papers in December 2018 noted: "The physical condition of the HSDU environment is significantly degraded, and is struggling to deliver capacity within the existing HSDU to maintain levels of provision for service demands."

And in May 2020 plans were outlined for replacing the HSDU on the basis it did not comply with the latest guidelines, had infrastructure "beyond its usual lifecycle", could not meet demand from a projected increase in operations and had no space to expand.

At the most recent board meeting on August 3 - just 13 days before leak forced operations to be cancelled - the HSDU was placed on NHS Lothian's corporate risk register with a risk grading of "very high".

Ms Webber said: “It is very alarming this has been on their radar for some time. There should have been more questions asked about what could have been done more quickly.

Operations had to be cancelled across Lothian because of a water leak at the centre providing sterile instruments. Photo: Michael Gillen.

“Questions must be asked as to why these issues, given the catastrophic impact they can have on service delivery across the entire health board, were not prioritised and addressed by the Scottish Government.

“This department has been underfunded and neglected for years. It might be a service that few people see, but it critical to delivering patient care.”

Morag Campbell, director of facilities and estates at NHS Lothian, said: “There is an on-going and substantial programme of equipment replacement in HSDU to maximise the capacity and maintain the unit pending reprovision.

“Work across all health boards in Scotland has reviewed services to evaluate provision and bolster resilience. As part of that, short, medium and long term plans have already been developed in Lothian and in some cases work streams have already been completed.

“In 2019, an internal audit said that more workforce planning would have to be carried out in order for the unit to be able to meet forecast demand, especially when a planned National Treatment Centre goes live, currently projected to be in 2027.

“It is important to stress that none of the equipment and long-term staffing concerns relate to the current water leak.

“The matter of the leak has been formally raised with the PFI provider Consort and an assurance on maintenance compliance has been sought.”

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