Edinburgh's promised new eye hospital: Patients say growing demand makes current Eye Pavilion 'unsustainable'

Increasing population and more long-term eye conditions mean new hospital essential
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Patients campaigning for Edinburgh's promised new eye hospital have warned that the growing demands on the city's current Eye Pavilion will mean it soon becomes "unsustainable".

In a letter to Health Secretary Michael Matheson, they highlight the urgency of replacing the 50-year-old building in Chalmers Street which was declared unfit for purpose in 2014 and is now suspected of containing crumbly RAAC concrete.

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The Keep Edinburgh Eye Pavilion (KEEP) patients’ campaign group said: "In the next decade, the Lothians is set to be hit with the highest population growth in Scotland. Pensioners will make up 20 per cent of this number. There will be an increase in long-term eye conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma.”

Growing demand will make the current Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion 'unsustainable', say patients.  Picture: Greg Macvean.Growing demand will make the current Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion 'unsustainable', say patients.  Picture: Greg Macvean.
Growing demand will make the current Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion 'unsustainable', say patients. Picture: Greg Macvean.

They went on to say these conditions required regular monitoring and repeat treatments. And they quoted a Scottish Public Health Network report which said that models of care and health service planning had to take account of such projections. The campaigners said: "If a replacement eye facility is not built now, the projected demands on the current hospital will be unsustainable."

Members of KEEP recently met Mr Matheson with Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack and said afterwards that they were even more concerned about the new hospital than they had been before, because the minister was not able to reassure them about when it would be built. The project is currently on pause pending the outcome of a spending review and there are fears the hospital will be delayed beyond the previous projected opening date of late 2027.

The Scottish Government backed plans for a new eye hospital in 2018, but cancelled it two years later before U-turning during the 2021 Holyrood elections and agreeing it would go ahead. The result of the spending review is expected to be announced around the time of the Scottish Budget on December 19.

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In their letter to Mr Matheson, KEEP also quoted Finance Secretary Shona Robison saying the Scottish Government remained “wholeheartedly committed to supporting the most vulnerable members of our society through our spending choices”. And it said: “The blind and visually impaired are amongst the most vulnerable. These are the 189,000 reasons why a new eye hospital is so badly needed.

"Currently, patients are seen in a facility that was considered ‘not fit for purpose’ in 2014. Conditions are cramped, there is a lack of privacy and confidentiality. Lifts break down. In-patients must share lifts with out-patients and visitors. Who wants to be stuck on the top floor if there is a fire? Now there are questions whether the building was constructed with ‘crumbly concrete’.”

And KEEP noted: “If the original building schedule had been kept, the hospital would have been in use by now. The cost has escalated from an initial £45 million to the latest reported figure of £125.5 million. This will only increase the longer it takes to get a replacement hospital built.”

The Scottish Government has said that it is “absolutely committed” to replacing the Eye Pavilion and that the review of capital projects will provide “clarity regarding funding and timescales for delivery of the new facility”.