Fears over Lothian eyecare review, but Nicola Sturgeon repeats funding commitment to replace Edinburgh's Eye Pavilion

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A senior eye specialist fears a controversial review will fail to recommend a new eye hospital for Edinburgh despite promises from Nicola Sturgeon she is willing to fund one.

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Dr Alistair Adams, a consultant at the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion for over 30 years, has sent MSPs and members of NHS Lothian board a four-page document setting out how essential it is for the new hospital proposed for Little France to go ahead.

NHS Lothian brought in private firm Buchan Associates to carry out a review of eyecare services after the Scottish Government said in December it would not fund the hospital despite giving initial approval in 2018.

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How the new eye hospital at Little France could lookHow the new eye hospital at Little France could look
How the new eye hospital at Little France could look

Ms Sturgeon has since said she will fund whatever NHS Lothian recommends.

But Dr Adams said: "I, and many of my colleagues, are concerned that pressure will be brought to bear on the review group to recommend a revision of ophthalmic services which is designed to save money, rather than to improve the ophthalmic services provided to the patients in Lothian."

There are also concerns that since the review was established on the basis that funding for the new hospital had been refused, it is unlikely to propose the hospital goes ahead.

In his briefing Dr Adams challenges the government’s suggestion that services should be dispersed, with more surgery carried out at St John’s Hospital, Livingston, and community optometrists playing a bigger role.

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The document says the revolution in diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases demands increasingly sophisticated equipment with high purchase and maintenance costs, which mean it cannot be duplicated in multiple sites.

Eye surgery is becoming increasingly complex, the document says, requiring expensive equipment and highly trained staff.

And it says the plan to make more use of community optometrists is “outdated” because it already happens, but for serious conditions patients must be referred to specialists.

Dr Adams said: “If you consider optometrists as spokes in the wheel, what you need is central hub where all the specialists and all the expensive, complicated equipment is situated.

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"The central hub needs be somewhere easily accessible for patients and where you can get hold of other specialities – someone with eye disease may have a neurological problem or a blood problem or a medical problem. The fact it was to be at Little France meant that was all in place.”

During a campaign visit to Bruntsfield, Ms Sturgeon responded to fears the review was unlikely to back a new hospital.

“We're in a different position because we've made the funding commitment,” she said.

“I appreciate the concern about this, I appreciate that people rightly are sceptical about election promises, but the commitment is very real and people should hear what I'm saying – that we're going to replace the Eye Pavilion and we're going to provide the funding for that.

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"In terms of the practical plan to do that, we will discuss that with the health board, but the commitment is absolute.”

Asked if “replacing” the Eye Pavilion definitely meant a new building, she said: "That includes a new building. I appreciate people have said that's what the health board wanted. If that is what the health board still consider is the right way forward for the Eye Pavilion, that is what the commitment is.”

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