Edinburgh eye hospital: MSPs' fears over current Eye Pavilion after promised new hospital put on hold

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Lothian MSPs are due to meet new Health Secretary Neil Gray next week to press for answers about the future of eyecare services in the area following the halting of work on Edinburgh's promised new eye hospital.

Tory MSP Miles Briggs said he wanted to know what would happen if the current Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion - declared unfit for purpose in 2014 - became unusable. The building, in Lauriston Place, is already plagued by leaks and lift breakdowns and is thought to contain potentially dangerous RAAC concrete.

There are fears over what will happen if the current Princess Alexandria Eye Pavilion becomes unusable before the new eye hospital is built.  Picture: Greg Macvean.There are fears over what will happen if the current Princess Alexandria Eye Pavilion becomes unusable before the new eye hospital is built.  Picture: Greg Macvean.
There are fears over what will happen if the current Princess Alexandria Eye Pavilion becomes unusable before the new eye hospital is built. Picture: Greg Macvean. | JP License

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It was due to be replaced by a new eye hospital next to the Royal Infirmary at Little France, but that is now on hold as part of a  two-year freeze by the Scottish Government on major new NHS capital projects.

Mr Briggs said: "The current building is just going to get worse. Professionals don't want to work there and they're very worried about it. But it's not as if there's just an empty wing of the ERI for them to take over. Just saying we're not building anything for two years isn't good enough. We need to know what plan B, C, D and E will look like because we could very easily get to those situations, sadly.  

"At the meeting I want to get beyond the political chit chat about this - we need to have plans and they need to be publicly made available to patients as well.There's a huge vacuum on what's going on now and it's not helpful for anyone involved."

He said it might be possible to find space in other NHS Lothian buildings for eyecare outpatients, but he feared some services could be transferred to other health boards. And he said he was particularly worried about access to emergency treatment.  "Eye surgery is not the same as knees or hips, so you can't necessarily just use the same operating theatres. There's very sophisticated equipment involved. And it's really important we keep the emergency clinical team together, whatever happens. It may be we need to build an emergency stand-alone theatre space somewhere."

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Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said feedback from users of the Eye Pavilion had highlighted concerns about the safety and adequacy of the current building, including the continued functioning of its operating theatres, where leaking roofs have sometimes forced the cancellation of surgery.

She said: "About 25 per cent of Scotland's sight loss patients are in the area served by Edinburgh's Eye Pavilion but while this freeze on new projects is ongoing there is a degree of uncertainty about the reliability of services at the Eye Pavilion."

She said if the current building could not be used, some services were likely to be transferred to the NHS Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank. "But the question is what support is going to be available for patients, carers and staff who have to travel to Clydebank for appointments there, because it is not an easy public transport route and if you have an eyesight issue you're not going to be able to drive yourself."

And Ms Boyack voiced concern about the impact which the government freeze could have on the project itself. "There is a huge amount of valuable knowledge and experience among the staff who have been working on the proposal up to now - it's absolutely critical we don't lose that staff knowledge during this delay.

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"There are lots of issues where the Heath Secretary needs to step up, which makes you ask why are we not just doing this hospital now.  The longer the delay is, the more uncertainty and the sheer cost of this project is going to continue to increase.

"And although the freeze is for two years, that's not when we will get a new hospital, that would be the start of the process of building it. It would take another two or three years after that, which would mean 15 years from when we knew the current Eye Pavilion was not fit for purpose.  That has got to concentrate the mind of the new Health Secretary.  This is an urgent issue and he needs to look at this properly."   

Edinburgh Northern and Leith SNP MSP Ben Macpherson said with the Capital's growing population, the demand for an eye hospital was only going to increase. He said: "I'm interested to hear from the new Heath Secretary about provision of necessary resource to meet the demands of Edinburgh and the Lothians' population growth which is the highest in Scotland.

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