Edinburgh's Eye Pavilion: Nicola Sturgeon promises replacement 'if that's what health board proposes'
Nicola Sturgeon has pledged the Scottish Government will fund a new eye hospital for the Capital if that is what NHS Lothian proposes.
The move appears to be a U-turn on the decision last December when ministers told the health board they would not fund a new hospital to replace the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion "now or in the foreseeable future" – despite signing up to the project in 2018. Instead, NHS Lothian was told to review its eye services and work on a model of dispersing them across the region.
The First Minister said in a speech on Wednesday the SNP would "renew" the Eye Pavilion, leaving it unclear whether she meant to build a new hospital or refurbish the existing building – a solution previously ruled out by the health board.
But asked by the Evening News whether she would fund the new eye hospital as originally proposed at Little France, she said: "If that's what the health board comes up with in terms of the favoured option then yes that's what we will do.
"We will replace the Eye Pavilion – obviously there's discussions about the precise design of that and the timescale and funding to be had with the health board, but yes that is the commitment – to replacement if that is what's put forward."
She added: "We are giving a commitment that we will fund the plan they put forward."
But Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs said he feared the government was “hiding behind the health board” on the issue.
He said NHS Lothian had three major capital projects ahead – the eye hospital, a replacement cancer centre and a new elective centre in Livingston. “When I had a meeting with the Health Secretary Jeane Freeman she suggested to me these were interlinked. It felt like the financial decision had been taken they couldn't have all three.
"If the SNP are going to commit to fund an eye hospital with no strings attached then great but it feels like they're going to hide behind the health board and the health board are going to have to cut their cloth accordingly.
"I'm very cynical that we're having this conversation in an election – and the SNP has bad form on this. Ahead of the last election they told people there was no threat to cleft-palate surgery and as soon as the votes were counted they centralised that in Glasgow.
“We need to have the financial commitment before the election that the SNP will properly fund a replacement eye hospital.”
Edinburgh Southern Labour MSP Daniel Johnson said the First Minister's pledge was promising.
"We know that when the health board first examined this that's exactly what they came forward with – a direct replacement for the Eye Pavilion. Presumably that is what they will come forward with again and we look forward to the government meeting that requirement in full."
Edinburgh Western Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said Ms Sturgeon's pledge echoed the commitment his party had been given in budget talks last month.
"Nothing has changed about Edinburgh’s need for a dedicated eyecare facility and the health board, I would hope, have not changed their mind about that. If the SNP have made good on their budget commitment to us then that’s a win.”