New Edinburgh eye hospital next to BioQuarter vital for new treatment research and training of specialists

New treatments for serious eye disease and the training of the next generation of eye specialists will be put at risk by scrapping plans for a new eye hospital for Edinburgh at Little France, next to the city's BioQuarter, experts have made clear.

Friday, 19th March 2021, 7:00 am

In a letter of support for the project, seen by the Evening News, Professor Moira Whyte, head of Edinburgh University's College of Medicine, spells out the extensive collaboration between the university and NHS Lothian in education, teaching and research, and highlights plans to expand such work it in the future.

And she says she wants to see a plan that “unites clinical and research opportunities at the Edinburgh BioQuarter”.

The Scottish Government has said it will not fund the planned new eye hospital at Little France to replace the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion on Chalmers Street, despite signing up to the project in 2018.

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The Scottish Government is refusing to fund a new eye hospital at Little France

In her letter, addressed to Professor Baljean Dhillon, professor of ophthalmology with dual roles in the university and the NHS, Professor Whyte says: “The University of Edinburgh has invested substantially in academic ophthalmology in recent years and under your leadership the department has developed an outstanding cohort of young academic ophthalmologists equal to anywhere in the UK and, I suspect, internationally.

“This academic success builds upon and supports our key strategic partnership with NHS Lothian in education, research and innovation, working together to improve outcomes for patients and to train the next generation of doctors.”

And she says the relocation of the hospital would allow “the integration of academic and clinical endeavours” and provide “substantial opportunity for innovation in the NHS”.

The university’s new £93 million Institute for Regeneration and Repair due to open next year will include a dedicated eye lab and also a base for the UK Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, which Professor Whyte says will “allow the development, rapid clinical translation and potentially commercialisation of new therapies for devastating eye diseases, including retinitis pigmentosa”.

She says proximity to the hospital would be crucial in supporting clinical trials of new therapies and ensuring they benefit local patients.

And she adds the university’s £70m Usher Institute for Informatics and Population Health Sciences, funded by the City Deal and scheduled for spring 2023, will support research programmes on data-driven innovation in digital imaging of the retina.

Professor Whyte continues: “Your department has proven a key draw in recruiting talented ophthalmologists from across the UK to work in Edinburgh and you also play an important role in educating the next generation of health professionals to care for patients with eye conditions.

"Students will favour specialities where they have the opportunity for early and deep clinical interactions. You and your colleagues have been able to offer students a range of exciting teaching sessions and research projects in their undergraduate careers that makes them more likely to choose ophthalmology as a postgraduate career. Training of the next generation is crucial for the NHS in Scotland.”

Edinburgh Southern Labour MSP Daniel Johnson said the need to maintain close links between research and treatment was another reason why the government should commit to replacing the Eye Pavilion.

He said: "It’s clear if you disperse expertise you will impact the ability of researchers to undertake their work and undermine Edinburgh’s status as a world-class base for eye research.”

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