Edinburgh's new eye hospital: Estimated opening date slips to late 2027 after delays

Replacement for Edinburgh Eye Pavilion delayed again

The timetable for Edinburgh’s new eye hospital has slipped again after delays over purchasing the site at Little France.

The replacement for the current Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion in Chalmers Street – declared not fit for purpose in 2014 – is now not expected to open to the public until “late 2027”.

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Planning for a new eye hospital began in 2017 and the Scottish Government approved the outline business case but then abruptly withdrew support in December 2020 and the project was only restored after a public outcry forced a U-turn during the Holyrood election campaign last year when Nicola Sturgeon announced the government would after all fund a replacement for the Eye Pavilion.

The particular site next to the Royal Infirmary intended for the new hospital had in the meantime been reallocated and a new plot nearby had to be found. A timetable of "key milestones" circulated to staff in September 2021 showed acquisition of the site due to be settled in January 2022, outline planning consent being granted in September 2023, construction starting in June 2024, with the hospital due for completion in September 2026 and opening to patients in December 2026. In April 2022 a report to the NHS Lothian board put the date a full six months later at June 2027.

But now health chiefs say they expect the site purchase to be concluded in early 2023 – a year later than previously said – with the new hospital ready to open to the public in late 2027. The latest delay emerged at a round-table discussion involving NHS Lothian, MSPs and campaigners.

Sylvia Paton, chair of the Keep Edinburgh Eye Pavilion (KEEP) campaign group, said it had been a positive meeting and the health board was keen to advance the project but she was disappointed the completion date had slipped.

She said: "There have been complications and complexities with the purchase of the land, but they told us it is actually a better site than we originally had, not least because it will be very close to what they are hoping will be car parking, drop-off paces and bus stops. It is essential that the new hospital is built to the highest of standards, taking into account the needs of the patients it cares for, as soon as possible. Eye healthcare is so important to the overall well-being of everyone. It was good to hear the health board’s commitment to this project. It is imperative that the Scottish Government work with NHS Lothian to avoid any further delays.”

The new eye hospital is now expected to open to the public in late 2027.

Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack also welcomed NHS Lothian’s commitment to the new hospital but said there must be no more delays. She said: “The Edinburgh Eye Pavilion is an essential service for many residents across Edinburgh and the Lothians. It is clear that NHS Lothian are taking the needs of patients into account by ensuring that the building will be a hub for research and will provide state-of the-art facilities, with a significant number of free parking spaces, improving the drop-off and pick-up points at the hospital.

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“Although there has already been a huge amount of work done on this project since 2017, it’s clear that lessons will need to be learnt from the building of the Sick Kids hospital and higher environmental standards built in from the start. It’s vital that we see the land needed for the new eye hospital bought, an inclusive design process and planning permission as soon as possible with the needs of patients at its heart.

“It is absolutely vital we don’t see any more delays from now on. The Scottish Government must provide all the support needed to ensure that the Eye Pavilion will be delivered as promptly as possible. People in Lothian have waited long enough.”

Jim Crombie, deputy chief executive of NHS Lothian, said: “NHS Lothian is committed to creating a leading, state-of-the-art eye hospital and is undertaking a significant programme of work, which involves extensive collaboration with the Scottish Government. We have been given permission to proceed to a full business case, which will be submitted for approval in two years time in 2024. Until conclusion of the full business case and agreement with Scottish Government, the programme to completion will remain a forecast and will be dependent on a number of factors.”