Edinburgh's Eye Pavilion: Celebrated surgeon says scrapping new hospital and dispersing services is 'a step back into the dark ages'

The celebrated eye surgeon who saved Gordon Brown's sight today note-0 condemned the decision to scrap Edinburgh’s planned new eye hospital and disperse eyecare services across Lothian as “vandalism” and "a step back into the dark ages".

Monday, 22nd February 2021, 7:35 am
Gordon Brown and and Dr Hector Chawla   Picture: Alex Hewitt/Writer Pictures
Gordon Brown and and Dr Hector Chawla Picture: Alex Hewitt/Writer Pictures

Dr Hector Chawla OBE, former director of the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion, said the Scottish Government's withdrawal of support for the proposed replacement, which was to be built next to the Royal Infirmary at Little France, appeared to be driven by saving money rather than any new concept of care.

Ministers told NHS Lothian in December it would no longer fund the hospital despite approving initial plans in 2018 and allowing more than £1m to be spent of the project since then.

Today the Evening News gives its backing to the campaign for the new hospital to proceed.

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The government claims eyecare services can now be delivered closer to people’s homes, with a bigger role for optometrists and appears to envisage most operations being carried out at a new elective care centre in Livingston.

But writing in today's News, Dr Chawla warns that expecting people to travel long distances for treatment would mean more people risking blindness.

He writes: “Most of these people tend to be older, frequently infirm and from the very reason of their referral, visually handicapped in some way. For them, to get to a centre in Edinburgh centre can be hard enough. Travelling miles beyond the city boundaries would very predictably result in failed attendance and preventable visual loss.”

And he says there is limited scope for optometrists to play a bigger role than they already do. “They would be the first to acknowledge that they are not doctors and could not function in the community without the secure presence nearby of a major centre, fully staffed and fully equipped."

Dr Chawla was director of the Eye Pavilion for 10 years and was awarded an OBE in 2001, the same year as he retired.

In his memoirs, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown recalls how as a teenager in 1971 he faced the possibility of blindness because of a rugby injury and was operated on by Dr Chawla. "Dr Chawla was about to go on holiday. He delayed his departure and saved my eye.”

There is cross-party support for the campaign to persuade the government to think again about its plans and a petition has been launched by Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs.

Dr Chawla led a successful campaign to save the Eye Pavilion in 1998, when it was proposed to move all it activities to St John’s Hospital in Livingston.

“But at least that proposal envisaged a single hospital in one place. Under today’s scheme, there would be no hospital at all. Surgery would be in West Lothian, services dispersed to who knows where, but the patients will still live in Edinburgh.

This is no Scottish Government master plan for ophthalmology to benefit the people of Edinburgh. It is vandalism.

"The proposal now to disperse ophthalmic provision over the Lothians is a step back into the dark ages, an expensive attempt to spend less money which defies the proof of clinical experience.”

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