Lothian 2021 election hustings: Candidates clash on decision to scrap new eye hospital

Edinburgh’s SNP MSPs were accused of remaining silent over the Scottish Government’s decision to scrap the city’s new eye hospital as candidates clashed at The Scotsman’s virtual election hustings for Lothian.

Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 7:00 am
The Scottish Government is refusing to fund a replacement for the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion

Tory Miles Briggs said: “We haven’t heard a cheep out of them on this issue – they have been completely silent.”

He launched his attack after the SNP’s Catriona MacDonald appeared to accept the need for a new hospital, but also support the government’s proposals.

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She said: “Finance secretary Kate Forbes has said she'll double maintenance to make sure the eye pavilion can remain open, but the reality is it's a really old building and it needs to be replaced.

"The cost of the proposed new eye hospital was significant – it was £83 million, not £45m – and since that proposal was made what we need from an eye hospital has fundamentally changed in Edinburgh.

"During the pandemic more than 7,000 people in Lothian with long-term conditions were being reviewed closer to home by community optometrists for the first time.

"NHS Lothian is also supporting a pilot scheme to allow some lower-risk patients to be reviewed by optometry practices in their communities. This is a good thing, an example of care being delivered close to people without the access issues of getting to a hospital.”

Mr Briggs said: “I understand what Catriona has read out – I’ve heard it twice now from the First Minister.

"But it comes to a fundamental issue – NHS Lothian is now the lowest-funded health board in Scotland. That’s totally unacceptable – we've got the fastest-growing population and we need resources.

"I don’t think, as we head into this election, we can see the SNP do anything but apologise, reverse this decision and fully fund a replacement hospital. If they're not delivering that, they don't deserve your vote.”

Labour’s Sarah Boyack said the parties on the city council had put aside political differences to unite in saying the decision had to be reversed.

“This is about people who need to get emergency access to treatment – people have told me stories about going to the eye pavilion at 3am or 4am and getting emergency treatment that saved their eyesight,” she said.

"The last thing we need is to disrupt this excellent facility.

“There is an opportunity in this campaign for us to come together and say we have all sorts of views on different issues, but this decision is wrong and has to be reversed.”

Liberal Democrat Fred Mackintosh said the debate was not about a clinical decision on the need to centralise services for safety or quality reasons, adding: “This is about money.

"NHS Lothian had a plan, they even appointed a contractor – no-one seriously believes that decision wasn’t approved by the health minister – and now the SNP are claiming it's nothing to do with them. I do not believe for a second any SNP MSP will break ranks after the election on this issue.”

The candidates also clashed about the priorities for the next Parliament, with Ms Boyack saying the focus had to be on recovering from the pandemic and it would be a “massive error” to spend the next year arguing about independence.

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