MSP calls for probe into ERI Consort deal

Jim Eadie has accused ERI operator Consort of financial blackmail over the current scandal. Picture: Greg Macvean
Jim Eadie has accused ERI operator Consort of financial blackmail over the current scandal. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A CITY MSP is demanding an investigation into the private finance initiative at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary after “utterly scandalous” behaviour by the company which runs the hospital.

The News revealed earlier this week that plans to build vital new wards to help avoid a repeat of last winter’s beds crisis were mired in a legal wrangle between health bosses and Consort, the firm which built and operates the ERI.

The plans for an extra 31 beds have now been delayed until late January or February due to the dispute.

NHS Lothian sources say they have also been forced to agree to a no-penalty clause in order to get the project moving.

Edinburgh Southern SNP MSP Jim Eadie accused Consort – which nets £60 million per year under the PFI contract – of “financial blackmail”.

He said: “I was outraged when I read the Evening News’ damning exposé of Consort’s bully-boy tactics. It is totally unacceptable that they are attempting to hold NHS Lothian to ransom by threatening to hold back vital funding.”

Mr Eadie has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament commending the Evening News for highlighting the issue and calling on the Scottish Government to investigate what further measures it can take to address the operation of the PFI contract, which he describes as “a major public scandal”.

He said Consort’s insistence on a no-penalty clause, which meant NHS Lothian would be prevented from imposing any deficiency points for breach of contract for a period of up to five years, was “an utterly scandalous attempt by Consort Healthcare to hold NHS Lothian to ransom that has no place in the NHS”.

Deficiency points are imposed when Consort’s performance is not up to standard, and if enough are awarded the NHS could kick Consort out.

Mr Eadie said the wrangle was further evidence of “a disastrous PFI contract” which dates back to 1998.

He has written to fellow MSPs from across Lothian, urging them to back his call for a parliamentary debate.

He said: “We need a full and frank debate to examine the disastrous deal that is putting patient welfare at risk and costing the taxpayer billions of pounds.

“I hope I can count on the support of every Lothian MSP who wants to see the best possible care for patients to back my call for this crucial debate.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said they were well aware of the burden placed on the public sector and the health service by costly historic PFI schemes.

“Due to the long-term natures of the contracts, and the penalties associated, it is not good value to end the contract early, although the health board will always negotiate a better deal on issues where possible.”

Consort has said it is working closely with NHS Lothian to progress the additional beds at the hospital as soon as possible.

A spokesman said: “Both parties continue to work together within the parameters of the existing contract to deliver services at the Royal Infirmary.”