Edinburgh's new eye hospital: latest updates suggest six month delay on project

Edinburgh's promised new eye hospital appears to have fallen behind schedule even before it has left the drawing board.

The new eye hospital will be built close to the Royal Infirmary at Little France.
The new eye hospital will be built close to the Royal Infirmary at Little France.

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Campaigners were already frustrated at the prolonged timetable for replacing the current Royal Alexandra Eye Pavilion, which is no longer fit for purpose.

But a report to today’s board meeting of NHS Lothian puts the “operational” date at June 2027, a full six months later than previously said.

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Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs said he would raise the issue with Health Secretary Humza Yousaf. He said: “As I’ve said from the outset, the new eye hospital should be priority infrastructure project. We know the poor condition of the old Eye Pavilion and this is yet another disappointing setback, from having to fight to stop it being cancelled to what sounds like another delay.

“There seem to be so many delays over this it is not being given the priority it needs, especially when the Eye Pavilion is beyond its life expectancy without good money being thrown after bad.”

The Scottish Government agreed in principle to a replacement for the Eye Pavilion in 2018 but effectively cancelled it in December 2020, saying it would no longer fund the project. After a public outcry, there was a U-turn during last year's Holyrood election campaign and Nicola Sturgeon promised to fund a replacement after all.

In September last year a timetable of "key milestones" showed acquisition of the site due to be settled in January 2022, outline planning consent being granted in September 2023, the full business case being approved and construction starting in June 2024, with the hospital due for completion in September 2026 and becoming operational three months later in December 2026.

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An update for today's board meeting from the deputy chief executive Jim Crombie says the project team have begun a review of the technical and clinical requirements for the new building. It says NHS Lothian is “positively engaged” with Scottish Enterprise about the sale of the site earmarked for the new hospital and expects to re-engage the main contractors later this year. The update mentions the submission of a Full Business Case (FBC) to the Scottish Government in the summer of 2024 "with full operational status being achieved in late 2026" – in line with the known timetable.

But a separate report listing NHS Lothian's corporate objectives says: "It is envisaged that submission for FBC approval and subsequent construction will be made in January 2025. Operational date June 2027."

Jacquie Campbell, chief officer of acute services for NHS Lothian, said: “NHS Lothian is undertaking a significant programme of work to establish a new eye hospital which can help us to deliver the highest quality care. We have approval to proceed to a Full Business Case, to be submitted to the Scottish Government in 2024, and are currently aiming for construction to begin later that year. We have already identified a suitable site, with negotiations progressing with the vendor.

“The timescale of the project is dependent on a number of factors and there is currently a projected operational date of 2027, although this has not been agreed with the Scottish Government and is still subject to change.”

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