Sick Kids hospital hit by toxic culture – Ian Swanson

The new sick kids hospital building at the ERI
The new sick kids hospital building at the ERI
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LEAFLETS had been delivered to homes across the city and there were adverts on the backs of buses, all proclaiming the opening date for the new children’s hospital. Health bosses in charge of the transfer of services from the current Sick Kids to the new hospital at Little France had made conveying the message about where patients should go and when their top priority.

The embarrassment when they had to scrap all that and announce an indefinite postponement of the move, just hours before it was due to start, was huge – not least because this was only the latest in a seven-year history of delays.

It is, of course, right to delay the opening if there are questions about patient safety – it was the under-performing ventilation system in the critical care unit which sparked the decision. It is perhaps a little unsettling that NHS Lothian initially thought it could go ahead with the opening and find a ‘work around’ for the ventilation before Health Secretary Jeane Freeman overruled the health board, ordered a halt to the move and demanded assurances about the rest of the building too.

She hopes that once checks have been carried out and she receives those assurances there can be a phased opening of the new hospital.

READ MORE: Edinburgh’s new children’s hospital flooded twice by ‘inadequate’ drainage

READ MORE: Could culture have silenced concerns over Edinburgh’s new children’s hospital?

But there are serious questions which need to be answered even then. Over the last few days the Evening News has revealed disturbing claims about both fire safety and drainage at the new hospital.

An agency worker who was employed as an electrician’s mate, installing fire and smoke detection devices in the ventilation system across the hospital, told us the devices should have been connected and checked by a qualified electrician but he and other unqualified workers were told to do that themselves. He said he had raised concerns and eventually lost his job as a result.

A source close to the project described two occasions when the basement of the new building was flooded due to a drainage sump which was not designed for the volume of waste water it would have to cope with.

IHS Lothian, the consortium in charge of delivering the new hospital, insists proper checks were carried out on the smoke detectors, the sump meets current standards and everything has been passed by independent testers.

But given the history of the project, that might not allay everyone’s concerns.

Tory MSP Michelle Ballantyne, who says her contacts within the system told her ahead of the announcement that the hospital was not fit to open, has voiced fears that people working on the project did not feel able to speak up and highlight problems.

On any building project, there are bound to be issues which arise and have to be dealt with, but it is a real concern – especially when it is a hospital we’re talking about – that if the prevailing culture is such that workers at the sharp end feel intimidated into keeping quiet, or when they do speak up, their warnings are ignored or dismissed.

The understandable priority at the moment is to check that the hospital is safe and get it open. But the deeper questions about how the project has been run, the way concerns were dismissed – or never raised – and the culture which may have prevented people speaking out should not be ignored if we want to stop a repeat.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com