Eyecare treatment could be moved to Livingston after Scottish Government says it won't fund new eye hospital for Edinburgh

Eyecare treatment could be spread to other hospitals across Lothian after the Scottish Government said it would not fund a replacement for Edinburgh’s Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion.

Friday, 1st January 2021, 7:00 am
The current Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion on Chalmers Street opened in 1969 Picture: Greg Macvean

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has said a new elective treatment centre being built in Livingston could house some ophthalmology services since plans for a new eye hospital in the Capital will now not go ahead.

But Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs said dispersing services to different locations was impractical and insisted a new eye pavilion was crucial. He hopes to stage a debate on the issue in the Scottish Parliament later this month.

NHS Lothian revealed two weeks ago that despite an agreement in 2018 it had been informed the government would not be able to fund the £45 million replacement eye hospital now or in the foreseeable future.

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After Mr Briggs raised the issue at First Minister’s Questions he received a letter from Ms Freeman saying it was inevitable some projects could not be progressed “as quickly as we would want”.

The letter said government officials had met NHS Lothian on December 4 and suggested that “as an alternative to full replacement, more work is done to develop regional solutions and a more distributed rather than centralised model of care”.

It added: “In addition, further consideration needs to be given by NHS Lothian to the role of the new Elective Care Centre in Livingston in supporting eye services. NHS Lothian indicated that they would explore that option and would consider how some of the ophthalmology activity could be incorporated into the additional capacity being created in the Elective Centre at St John’s.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a new network of "elective treatment centres" - designed to carry out hip, knee and cataract operations - at the SNP conference in 2015.

But Mr Briggs said ophthalmology had not previously been part of the plan for the new Livingston centre. “It's going to mean huge amounts of travel for people with eye issues, it just doesn't make sense.”

He believes the government has told health bosses in Lothian it cannot fund all three of the major projects planned for the area – the elective care centre in Livingston, a new cancer centre at the Western General and the replacement for the eye pavilion. The Livingston centre is the most advanced of the projects and the cancer centre has already been delayed until 2030, so the eye hospital is the one to be dropped.

He said: “They should just be honest about it rather than suggesting that all of a sudden they don't need the eye pavilion replacement. The current building will need a huge amount spend on it if they are going to stay there - it's not fit for purpose.”

But he said: “We should fight for all three. Given we're underfunded per head of population, it’s the least we can expect from ministers to stop short-changing NHS Lothian and fund these replacement services as they were going to do two years ago.”

The current eye pavilion in Chalmers Street, opened in 1969, was deemed unfit for purpose in 2015. An initial agreement for a new hospital was approved by NHS Scotland in February 2018 and a construction company appointed to lead the project in July that year.

But in her letter, Ms Freeman says: "While Scottish Government was supportive of NHS Lothian designing a business case for the redesign of eye services, at no point was funding committed.”

She added: "The Scottish Government has worked closely with NHS Lothian on this project and we will continue to work with them on their plans to redesign eye services for the people of Lothian and the wider region.”

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