Edinburgh's Drumbrae care home: cost of conversion to medical facility soars 'from £300,000 to £3 million'

Health bosses in Edinburgh accused of ‘complete mismanagement’

Health bosses have been accused of “complete mismanagement” after officials revealed the cost of converting a council care home into an NHS complex care facility has soared from £300,000 to more than £3 million.

One source said the main factor in the huge cost increase at the former Drumbrae care home was the need to install a hospital-grade ventilation system. And now a key part of the shake-up of care provision in the Capital has been put on hold.

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The 60-bed Drumbrae home was one of five council-run care homes named for closure in June 2021. But while the other four were intended to close for good and not be replaced, Drumbrae – the newest of the homes – was to be switched from a care home to a new role, providing hospital-based complex clinical care (HBCCC), managed and staffed by NHS Lothian. It was due to take patients from Liberton Hospital, which would then close.

The plans for the four older homes were delayed amid concerns over lack of consultation and are currently on ice while the health board focuses on the staffing crisis. But the transfer of Drumbrae from the council went ahead and the building is now leased to the NHS. But it has remained empty since it closed as a care home about a year ago.

Peter Watton, the council’s director of sustainable development, told the finance committee: “What has happened is the cost of converting Drumbrae from its current condition to a medical facility has gone up from £300,000 to over £3 million to be compliant and the health board and Integration Joint Board (IJB) are now rethinking what the strategy is going to be because they cannot afford that level if investment into a property they are leasing.”

Tory councillor Phil Doggart, a former member of the IJB, said he was shocked at the news. “It’s absolutely appalling and it’s complete mismanagement. Something has gone very wrong and someone has failed in due diligence and it does seem a waste of public money.”

He said there were lots of questions to be answered. And he said: “There is no way the council should be funding anything extra to the IJB that would represent a contribution in respect of Drumbrae.”

Drumbrae care home has been standing empty since it closed about a year ago.

Labour’s Ross McKenzie was also appalled. He said: "Drumbrae was the most modern care home in the council's stock, containing 60 much-needed beds for long-term care. It should never have been handed over to the NHS and it's heartbreaking to learn that it has been sitting empty for the past year with no plans to convert it for NHS use. Medically fit people are dying in hospital while they wait for long-term care. The Edinburgh IJB's 'Bed-Based Care Strategy' has failed completely and its authors need to take responsibility for the mess they have created."

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A source told the Evening News the cost rise was mainly due to ventilation. “While it was a care home it didn’t need any special ventilation because it was just where people lived, like any house. But its new function under the NHS would require a high-powered ventilation system that tears through every wall and ceiling to bring it up to hospital standard.”

David Harrold, of Unison, said when the plans for Drumbrae were approved by the IJB the union had asked whether money was in place for the conversion and a smooth transition. "We were told all the money was there to make the relevant changes and the transition was going to be very quick, yet here we are a year later, we are no further forward and suddenly we're talking about costs of £3 million. The place has been left empty and it has suffered from vandalism, people have pinched tiles from the roof and so on. You can't justify having a care home standing empty for over 12 months and being allowed to fall apart.”

A spokesperson for NHS Lothian said the council had provided the health board with indicative costs to bring Drumbrae up to standard for its new use. “These costs were based on the level of work the council thought would be required within the building to make it usable for this purpose. NHS Lothian specialist teams reviewed these outline costs and rapidly determined that the likely figure, based on the work the council thought was needed, would be closer to £1 million. Within less than a month from reviewing the outline costs, NHS Lothian had carried out extensive site visits and surveys of the building. Through these, it became apparent that the required work was much broader and significantly more extensive than what was outlined in the council’s indicative costs and would need to include making the building compliant with fire safety regulations in order for it to be safely used.

"We determined that to carry out the actual level of work required, within just part of the building, would likely cost closer to £2 million and as such the proposal, at this stage, could not go ahead. We have written formally to the IJB to make them aware of this and continue to work with the council on what Drumbrae could be used for.”