Delayed land swap sparks fears for Sick Kids project

Artist's impression of the Sick Kids Hospital at Little France.
Artist's impression of the Sick Kids Hospital at Little France.
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THERE are fears of yet more delays to the building of a new Sick Kids Hospital, after it emerged that a key land swap deal has yet to be signed.

The hospital was originally to open later this year, but with the construction contract not even out for tender, unions reiterated their warnings that the whole project could be put in jeopardy by the repeated delays.

NHS Lothian had hoped to advertise the contract to build the £250 million new hospital at Little France by the end of March, but first it needs to reclaim the land occupied by the main car park from PFI firm Consort, which runs the ERI.

The children’s hospital and Department of Clinical Neurosciences are to be built on that plot because it is adjacent to the ERI, and will enable the two sites to be linked. NHS Lothian will then build a new car park on nearby land and sign it over to Consort. But for the land swap to go ahead, the agreement of 11 separate banks are needed, and so far only seven have signed up.

They all have financial agreements with Consort, and need to approve any change in the contract between the firm and NHS Lothian, by signing off a document known as a supplementary agreement or SA6.

NHS Lothian director of finance Susan Goldsmith told the NHS Board: “SA6 is hugely complex and that’s why it has taken time. The banks are essentially giving up a security.”

When vice-chairman Eddie Egan asked if this was likely to have an impact on the opening date of the new Sick Kids, currently scheduled for autumn 2016, Ms Goldsmith replied: “Potentially, yes. I could not say to you now that it will not affect the timetable.”

Mr Egan said: “I don’t think NHS Lothian is in a position to make international bankers sign anything.

“I still don’t have a car park, I still don’t have a hole in the ground, and neither does anybody around this table.”

Asked by chairman Charles Winstanley if NHS Lothian had any leverage to force the banks to speed up the sign-off, Ms Goldsmith said: “No, no leverage at all”.

A Consort spokeswoman’s only comment was: “The discussion is ongoing.”

Unison Branch Leader Tom Waterson said: “We’re already a few years behind schedule and the longer it goes on, the more pressure we believe may come from the West of Scotland to centralise Scotland’s children’s service and neurological services in Glasgow.”

Once the land swap is agreed, NHS Lothian’s outline business case for the project will go to the Scottish Government for final rubber stamping, and then the project can be put out to tender. After three months, a shortlist of three companies will be drawn up, and they will then enter a period of “competitive dialogue” of up to nine months before a contractor is selected.

The current building in Marchmont is due to be sold.