Edinburgh's new eye hospital 'under threat again' amid fears over Scottish Government funding
and live on Freeview channel 276
A much-needed replacement for the current Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion was first agreed in 2018, but the Scottish Government pulled funding for the project two years later, only to be forced into a U-turn during the 2021 Holyrood elections when the then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it would be funded after all.
But the timetable for the new hospital has already slipped twice, with the most recent estimate saying it would open in “late 2027”. And now there are fears financial pressures could mean government funding is delayed, meaning an even longer wait for the replacement hospital.
The source said: “It's under threat again. We're not going to get the progress we need to get it done in the next five years and that's really disappointing because the current facilities are not fit for purpose. The business case has been submitted for it but we don't know where it's going to go, or when they're going to make the money available.”
NHS Lothian has a list of priority projects for which it needs funding from the government. The source suggested a new cancer care centre planned for Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital and an elective treatment centre due to be built at St John’s Hospital, Livingston, would receive funding, but there was no guarantee for the eye hospital. “We can’t move to the next stage until we know the resources are there behind it.”
The current Eye Pavilion in Chalmers Street was declared not fit for purpose in 2014. And only this week it was listed as one of eight NHS Lothian buildings with a high of containing the cheap “crumbly” concrete which has been linked to the collapse of a school roof in England. If it is confirmed as having the material, the hospital could face full or partial closure on safety grounds.
Plans for a replacement were approved in principle in 2018, but the project was effectively cancelled in December 2020 when the Scottish Government told NHS Lothian it would no longer fund it. Instead, ministers said eye care should be dispersed across the region, with patients being directed to local opticians or St John's in Livingston.
A public outcry and pressure from local politicians and medical professionals led to a U-turn and the commitment to a new eye hospital was reaffirmed in a statement to parliament after the 2021 elections.
But when the projected timetable emerged, with construction set to start in June 2024 and the hospital not opening until December 2026, patients and campaigners were disappointed. And since then the timings have slipped twice. In April 2022 a report to the NHS Lothian board put the date a full six months later at June 2027. And in November 2022 health chiefs said they expected the new hospital to open to the public in "late 2027".
The last official cost for the new hospital, to be built close to the Royal Infirmary at Little France, was £123 million in February.
Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack voiced concern about the situation. She said: “We urgently need to see progress on the new Eye Pavilion – but to date we’ve just had warm words from the Scottish Government. A few months ago we were told that the new Eye Hospital would be operational in 2027.
“But uncertainty in Scottish Government funding is putting this delayed target at risk. The Scottish Government must get its act together and support NHS Lothian to complete the new Eye Pavilion by 2027 because patients have waited long enough.”
And Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs said: “It is concerning that the delivery of a new eye hospital in Edinburgh is being held up by SNP and Green Ministers. The current Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion is now beyond its original life expectancy as a public building which makes it harder to get on top of the long waiting list for ophthalmology appointments. It is clear that NHS Lothian are eager to get on and deliver this crucial infrastructure for the region.
“The decision by the previous SNP administration to scrap the new eye hospital has set the project back and clearly also increased costs. When SNP Ministers made the decision not to build a new hospital, the campaign to secure a new Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion showed how much people want to see this new hospital delivered."
NHS Lothian deputy chief executive Jim Crombie said: "NHS Lothian remain very committed to the delivery of the new Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion redevelopment project. The Scottish Government has provided the same assurances. Timescales for the delivery of this project are currently under review as part of the Scottish Government’s wider funding and project sequencing review, which encompasses a number of capital projects across the Scottish health estate. This is unfortunately delaying the progress of this important project.
"NHS Lothian remains in continual communication with Scottish Government. A dedicated project team is fully mobilised to progress the project at the earliest opportunity."
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The replacement Eye Pavilion remains a priority for the Scottish Government. The recently commissioned review of capital projects across Scottish Government will provide clarity regarding funding and timescales for delivery of the new facility.”