Edinburgh's Sick Kids hospital could have learned lessons from city's school buildings scandal

Auditor General report says issues 'resonate' with findings of earlier report

Wednesday, 18th December 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 18th December 2019, 6:30 pm
The hospital is now scheduled to open in autumn next year

LESSONS from Edinburgh’s school buildings scandal could have helped avoid the problems at the new Sick Kids hospital, Scotland’s Auditor General has suggested.

In a new report on the £150 million building whose opening was called off at the last minute in July, Caroline Gardner makes the connection between the hospital’s failure to meet key national standards and the report into the 2016 wall collapse at Oxgangs Primary School and the subsequent discovery of faults in other schools across the city.

That report, by Professor John Cole, criticised poor workmanship but also highlighted the need for adequate oversight and independent inspection of construction projects.

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The opening of the new Sick Kids was called off at the last minute in July after final compliance checks found the ventilation system in critical care was not up to required standards. The hospital is now scheduled to open in autumn next year and a public inquiry has been ordered into what went wrong.

While the Sick Kids was still under construction there were already well-developed problems at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, which had been built by the same construction firm, Multiplex.

Ms Gardner said: “It’s clear that the checks and balances around the construction of the new children’s hospital didn’t work, and the public inquiry may want to consider why that happened after similar issues had emerged around the building of schools in Edinburgh.

“It would also be beneficial to understand the role played by all the parties involved, and to explore why the issues that emerged at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth hospital didn’t prompt greater scrutiny in Edinburgh.”

Her report on the Sick Kids said key questions remained unanswered by the reviews of the project carried out so far.

Outstanding issues which needed answers included why specifications in the “Environmental Matrix” produced by NHS Lothian were inconsistent with national guidelines on ventilation requirements in critical care areas and why a series of opportunities to spot the error were missed.

And the report said some of the issues raised by the Sick Kids project resonated with the findings of the independent Cole report on the construction of Edinburgh schools after the temporary closure of 17 schools across the Capital on safety grounds following the Oxgangs wall collapse.

“The (Cole) report recommended the need for a clear understanding among all parties of their roles and responsibilities; clear protocols regarding the escalation of significant issues; effective and independent scrutiny and inspection; sufficient oversight and quality assurance of construction works and the need for truly independent certification.”

Edinburgh Southern Labour MSP Daniel Johnson welcomed Ms Gardener’s decision to highlight the school buildings scandal.

He said: “It is clear from the report there was a serious missed opportunity to learn the lessons of the Cole Report into the buildings issues of Edinburgh schools.

“There are direct parallels in the methodology, quality control and the use of ‘design and build ’ from the issues found in Edinburgh schools.

“These points are all directly relevant to the Sick Kids hospital, but NHS Lothian appear not to have taken the opportunity to ask whether they needed to make changes in line with Professor Cole’s recommendations.

“A fundamental question has to be asked about a construction method that might be good enough for building supermarkets but is it good enough to build hospitals or schools.

“It is clear that NHS Lothian both failed to act on information they had in front of them or learn the lessons from elsewhere. These are the very questions that require definitive and resolute answers from the public inquiry.”

Mr Johnson said the Auditor General’s report pointed to “a complete breakdown of responsibility, management and oversight by all the parties involved in this project”.

NHS Lothian finance director Susan Goldsmith said: “NHS Lothian accepts the Environmental Matrix was incorrect, but we would reiterate the point we made to the Auditor General that it was never part of the contractual suite of tender documents.”

She said the tender documents contained the explicit requirement that all relevant national standards should be complied with and that the reference for these was the Scottish Health Technical Memorandum.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced last month the appointment of High Court judge Lord Brodie to head the public inquiry. Details of its remit and timetable are expected in the new year.