The opening of Edinburgh's new £150 million Royal Hospital for Children and Young People has been delayed once again.
Patients were due to begin moving today from the current Sick Kids hospital in Sciennes, near the Meadows, to the world-class Royal Hospital for Sick Children and Young People in Little France, on the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary campus.
The new hospital was due to become fully operational on Tuesday when its children’s accident and emergency department opened.
However, the Scottish Government issued a statement last night which said: “This decision was taken following final safety checks which revealed that the ventilation system within the critical care department in the new hospital requires further work to meet national standards.”
A member of staff who did not want to be named said a site director had indicated there would be a delay of four months.
Last night health unions and opposition parties expressed anger that the problem had not been identified earlier. Senior staff, including those co-ordinating patients’ move to the new hospital, were not informed of the crisis until after a statement was issued to the media yesterday.
One senior medical officer described the news as coming like “a bolt out of the blue”.
Tim Davison, NHS Lothian’s chief executive, said patient safety was of paramount importance and there was no option but to delay the opening .
“The air environment is extremely important and can help prevent the occurrence and spread of infection in patients who are already vulnerable,” Mr Davison said.
The hospital, being built in partnership between NHS Lothian and IHSL Limited with Multiplex building contractor, had been scheduled to open in July 2017 but was hit by a series of delays including the liquidation of a sub-contractor, severe weather and issues with piling works.
Health secretary Jeane Freeman said she was “disappointed” and has ordered an investigation.
Ms Freeman said: “There is no greater responsibility of the NHS than to ensure the clinical safety of their patients, not least when those patients are children.
“In order to be absolutely sure that patient safety is delivered, I have no choice but to postpone NHS Lothian’s planned move to the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People.
“It is vital that patient safety remains paramount, which is why I have asked the health board to stop all moves until assurances have been given that the new site is entirely compliant with the relevant health technical standards.”
She added: “While this issue has been caught by the final safety checks, I am disappointed and deeply concerned that this was not identified earlier.
“I have asked that Health Facilities Scotland undertake an investigation to determine how the hospital got to this advanced stage before it was discovered that the ventilation system fell below the standards expected.”
Mr Davison said: “Patient safety is paramount, and following the handover of the new hospital NHS Lothian has continued to monitor facilities at the new site to ensure all systems are operating to national standards.
“Following advice from an independent adviser, I fully accept the health secretary’s decision to reschedule the move to the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People.
“The air environment is extremely important and can help prevent the occurrence and spread of infection in patients who are already vulnerable.
“We are extremely disappointed that we cannot move as planned and I am very sorry for the disappointment this will cause to patients, their families and staff affected by this delay. However, patient safety must always come first.”
Monica Lennon MSP, Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman, said: “It is beyond belief that these serious safety failures were not raised well in advance of the opening day.
“These issues follow on from the reported ventilation problems linked to the infection scandal at the flagship Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.
“The health secretary Jeane Freeman must get a grip on this latest hospital scandal.”
Neil Findlay, Labour MSP for Lothian and a member of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on health inequalities, said NHS Lothian must act quickly to safeguard the health of patients scheduled for appointments and operations at the new hospital.
Miles Briggs MSP, the Scottish Conservative health spokesman, tweeted: “SNP ministers approved the new Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Little France seven years ago and since then it has been one delay after another. It is staggering that hours before the new hospital was due to be opened that it has been delayed yet again.”
Thomas Waterson, chair of Unison Scotland’s health committee, said: “We are shocked that this announcement has come at such a late stage. And frustrated that the cabinet secretary for health has put out a press release before any staff had been informed. Obviously patient safety is paramount but if there are health and safety issues then the appropriate action was required long before this late stage.
“We were supposed to move into the new hospital next week. The Scottish Government statement also makes no mention of the Department of Clinical Neuroscience which was due to move on Monday. Is this also delayed?
“The Scottish Government has spent years planning this move, so to have further delays particularly at this late stage for health and safety is simply unacceptable. Staff and patients have put up with a substandard building and facilities for far too long.
“The Scottish Government must show staff respect they deserve and give them details of what is happening going forward so we can explain this to our patients and provide world class health care.”
“The hospital was handed over to NHS Lothian months ago and the snagging process was just meant to clear up small things, but this is a major issue. This is totally unacceptable unless there was a catastrophic failure all of a sudden.”
The new hospital will also be home to services from the department of clinical neurosciences at the Western General and the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Facilities include 242 beds, ten theatres, a children’s emergency department and 13 wards.