Gordon Brown backs calls for new Edinburgh eye hospital to go ahead at Little France

Former prime minister Gordon Brown – whose sight was saved by surgeons at Edinburgh's Eye Pavilion – has thrown his weight behind the campaign for a new eye hospital to be built next to the Royal Infirmary.

Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 11:17 am

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He said he had been a regular visitor to the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion over its 50-year existence but it now urgently needed to be replaced.

And he called on the Scottish Government to “end the ambiguity” over its plans and commit to a new hospital at Little France.

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Gordon Brown with Dr Hector Chawla Picture: Alex Hewitt

His intervention, just days before the Holyrood elections, comes as Dr Hector Chawla, the consultant responsible for the sight-saving surgery in 1971, sets out in today’s Scotsman why the proposal to disperse services, put forward by the government as an alternative to a new hospital, would not work.

The government told NHS Lothian in December it would not fund a new hospital “now or in the foreseeable future” despite agreeing in principle to the project in 2018 and allowing more than £1 million to be spent on planning the new building. Instead, it said NHS Lothian should review eyecare services, suggesting community optometrists could take a bigger role and operations could be carried out at a new elective centre in Livingston yet to be built.

The decision caused a public outcry and prompted cross-party calls for a rethink. The SNP manifesto now includes a pledge to “replace” the Eye Pavilion but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has indicated the review will still play a crucial role in what actually happens.

In his Scotsman article, Dr Chawla, former director of the Eye Pavilion, accuses the government of being prepared to preside over the destruction of a centre of excellence and describes the proposed dispersal model as “a medley of the old measures already in action and new measures that won’t work”.

Mr Brown said: "A new hospital is needed to replace the old building that is now more than 50 years old and was built for a different era of patient care."

"My sight was saved by the skills of medical staff, led by Dr Chawla, at the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion and as a patient who has not only been operated on in the hospital but regularly visited it over its whole 50 year history, I know the value of a specialist hospital whose unique facilities and clinical expertise serve the whole region including Fife and the Borders but which is in urgent need of upgrading.

"What it offers is so critical and its specialisms so important to patient care that when we saw it was underfunded and lacked the most up to date equipment, a group of patients and supporters raised money to donate the latest machine able to photograph retinas in meticulous detail and identify a range of eye conditions from diabetes to detached retinas."

"But only the Scottish Government can finance the building of a new hospital and Ministers should end the ambiguity of their announcements which cast doubt on how independent their review is, and commit to a new hospital hopefully on the Little France site where the new Royal Infirmary now stands."

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