Health Secretary Jeane Freeman says she wants Edinburgh's 'not fit for purpose' Eye Pavilion to stay open

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has said she wants NHS Lothian to retain the current Royal Alexandra Eye Pavilion building even though it was declared ‘not fit for purpose’ seven years ago.

Monday, 1st March 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Monday, 1st March 2021, 11:26 am

The Scottish Government told the health board in December it would not fund a new eye hospital at Little France despite signing up to the project in an initial agreement in 2018. Instead it said services should be dispersed, including to a new elective care centre next to St John’s Hospital in Livingston.

But in a letter to Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray, Ms Freeman claimed she also saw a continuing role for the current building in Chalmers Street.

She wrote: "We have decided not to proceed with the replacement of the Eye Pavilion at this time. We have asked NHS Lothian to plan on retaining the facility and have suggested that more work is done to develop regional solutions and a more distributed, rather than centralised, model of care.

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The Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion on Chalmers Street was deemed unfit for purpose in 2014 Pic: Greg Macvean

“As part of this, further consideration needs to be given by NHS Lothian to the role of the new elective care centre in Livingston in supporting eye services. This would provide more treat options closer to home for the people of West Lothian and, with the retention of the Eye Pavilion in Edinburgh, promote more equitable access to health care across Lothian."

Mr Murray said he was shocked when he read the current building would be retained and warned it would need a lot of money spent on it.

He said: “They have already declared it is not fit for purpose and that’s when they promised money to rebuild it at Little France. Now they have essentially said they’re not doing that and they're going to send people to St John's.

“If they want to retain it they're going to have to spend a significant amount of money to modernise the facilities, so they would be much better to abide by their original promise and take it out to Little France.”

In another statement, to RNIB Connect radio, the Scottish Government said there were “no plans” to close the Eye Pavilion

Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs said he had been told it would cost £17 million to “patch up” the current Eye Pavilion.

He said: "NHS Lothian has said that building has to be refurbished at great expense or replaced. The government is almost forcing the health board into a position where they will have to close it because there is no alternative.

“The government is playing with us all in the statements they put out because they keep saying they are waiting for the health board to come forward with plans, but the health board doesn’t have the money to do anything else.

"Ministers should stop pulling wool over people's eyes – we know what their position is, they have said in a letter this money will not be available.”

But he said he did not believe refurbishment would be an acceptable alternative even if the government were to provide funding for that.

“We need to get the money back for a stand-alone replacement eye hospital at Little France.”

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