Edinburgh's Eye Pavilion: centralisation fears as thousands already sent west for treatment

More than 8,500 eye patients from Lothian have been sent to the west of Scotland for treatment over the past five years and campaigners claim the scrapping of plans for a new eye hospital in the Capital will mean more people having to travel.

Tuesday, 6th April 2021, 7:00 am

Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs said he feared the loss of a specialist eye hospital would lead to greater centralisation of eyecare provision in Glasgow.

The Scottish Government provoked a public outcry in December when it said it would not fund a replacement for the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion – despite backing the project in 2018 – and told NHS Lothian to review its eye services.

Figures released under Freedom of Information show an average of almost 2,000 patients a year were being referred from Lothian to the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank for ophthalmology treatments until last year when the pandemic saw numbers fall to 635.

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The Scottish Government has said it will not fund a replacement for the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion Pic Greg Macvean

In the past five years a total of 8,586 Lothian patients have been sent to the Golden Jubilee. Most are thought to have been for cataracts.

Mr Briggs, who obtained the data, said: "This is what's happening while we still have the hospital – imagine what it will be like if we don't have it. It just reinforces the need for us to have a specialist service.

"The SNP pledged at previous elections to keep healthcare as local as possible. What they're doing with the Eye Pavilion potentially turns that on its head – people will have to travel far more and I think there is growing concern over that."

The government says it does not want the Eye Pavilion to close, but the building was deemed not fit for purpose several years ago and many believe its condition means it cannot remain in operation long.

When they called a halt to the new hospital ministers suggested some eye operations could be carried out at a new elective care centre to be built in Livingston.

Mr Briggs said Livingston would only cater for planned operations, like cataracts. He welcomed that extra capacity, but said he was worried about what happened to patients needing emergency surgery.

"A lot of the Eye Pavilion's work is emergency eyecare, detached retinas and things like that – not things that can be planned.

"Ministers have never explained where this emergency work will take place.

"It very much feels as if we are seeing the centralisation of our eye services through to Glasgow."

Dr Hector Chawla, former director of the Eye Pavilion and a highly respected eye surgeon, has argued the new hospital planned for Little France, next to the Royal Infirmary, must go ahead and warned eyecare services cannot be succesfully dispersed.

"All specialities have sub-specialities within them and they have to be concentrated in one unit, so you have one big unit in each big town – that's the way it works.

"To have everything centralised as they have Police Scotland, you can't run a service like that. It just would not work."

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