ERI surgeon forced to operate by torchlight

A PATIENT had to be sewn up by torchlight after the room was plunged into darkness when workers cut the power at two theatres at the Royal Infirmary.

The operating theatres suffered a complete power cut when staff from Consort, the private firm which runs the hospital, started scheduled maintenance work too early and switched the electricity off while the theatres were in use, instead of waiting until surgery was over.

Because the power had been cut off, back-up systems did not start as planned, and theatre staff had to use emergency procedures to keep monitoring equipment running as torches were brought in to illuminate the patient while a surgeon completed the operation.

Another patient who was being prepared for surgery in the second theatre had a procedure cancelled at the last minute.

It is the latest in a series of blunders by Consort. In December, a father had to use the torch app on his mobile phone to search for his newborn son in a birthing pool at the hospital when the lights failed during the birth.


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NHS Lothian said Consort had “failed to follow critical procedures” by switching off the electricity before surgery finished. The firm is to be fined, and staff are facing disciplinary proceedings.

The patient was told that their surgery had been completed by torchlight, and received an apology.

Dr David Farquharson, medical director for NHS Lothian, said: “The safety of patients is paramount in NHS Lothian and we have systems in place to ensure that power is never lost from any operating theatre.

“Planned maintenance was due to be carried out on the power supply after surgery was complete, but Private Finance Initiative (PFI) provider Consort failed to follow our critical procedures. Disciplinary proceedings are now under way.


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“One patient was preparing to undergo a procedure but, because it had not begun, the operation was delayed until full power was available. Another procedure was being completed and our team of expert staff worked admirably using well-rehearsed business continuity plans to ensure that the patient did not come to any harm. Subsequent patients were not called until the situation could be fully investigated and we have apologised to those involved.

“We feel let down that our patients and staff were put in this position and we have met with Consort. A penalty will be imposed.”

The incident was also slammed by the unions.

Tom Waterson, Lothian branch chairman for Unison, said: “It highlights that the PFI consortia put finance first as opposed to putting patients first.


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“Again, we have seen the risk transfer goes to the patients and not to the private company. It again highlights concerns that we have had since the contract was signed that this is a company that cannot be trusted with the health of the people of Edinburgh and the Lothians.”

Consort director Stephen Gordon said the power had been disrupted for around ten minutes, and added: “Consort has taken this incident very seriously and have undertaken a thorough investigation into this matter in conjunction with NHS Lothian to review the current operating procedures in place for works of this nature.”

Labour’s health spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, said: “It just defies belief. I think the time has come that we need an independent inquiry into this to ensure this never happens again.”

Were you the patient operated on by torchlight? Contact 0131-620 8671 or [email protected]


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Striking a deal

Consort Healthcare won the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract to build and operate the Royal Infirmary in 1996, after a bid by its parent company, Balfour Beatty.

It receives about £60 million a year for carrying out the hospital’s non-medical services, such as maintenance, security, cleaning and catering.

In July 2010, it emerged that NHS Lothian would have to pay a total of £1.26 billion for the hospital by the end of the contract in 2028 – but still won’t own the building.


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Similar PFI schemes in Glasgow and Forth Valley are due to result in the NHS owning the properties after a 30-year period. But when NHS Lothian’s deal with Consort runs out in 2028, it will have to either negotiate a price with Consort to buy the hospital, extend the lease by another 25 years, or walk away, leaving the hospital and its contents to the firm.


March 29, 2012: An operation has to be completed by torchlight after power fails in the operating theatre.

February 2-4, 2012: Only one security guard is on patrol at the ERI during the evenings due to staff sickness, and Consort fails to tell NHS staff.


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January 31-February 7, 2012: Consort fails to tell the NHS that smoke alarms around ten operating theatres are broken.

January 2012: It emerges that Consort has cleared 580 staff to work without carrying out criminal background checks.

December 8, 2011: A baby is born by torchlight as power fails in the birthing unit.

September 2011: The relationship between Consort and NHS Lothian is criticised by the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate after inspectors find dirty wards and toilets. The HEI report says poor communication led to confusion.


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October 2007: Some of the hospital’s panic alarms break down, and Consort makes a deliberate decision not to inform NHS staff as they await repairs.

August 2006: The ERI is declared the second dirtiest hospital in Scotland and NHS Lothian is reported to be considering quitting its deal with Consort.

October 2003: The hospital’s power fails for 30 minutes after an electrical surge in a storm.

September 2003: Power failure leaves the hospital without electricity for an hour. Staff rely on batteries to keep equipment working as intensive care monitoring systems fail.