Sick Kids deal agreed at last

An artist's impression of how the new Sick Kids hospital will look
An artist's impression of how the new Sick Kids hospital will look
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A DEAL to see a new Sick Kids Hospital built in the Capital has finally been hammered out – as health chiefs vowed mistakes of the past will not be repeated.

At a meeting of the NHS Lothian board yesterday it emerged the terms of a crucial land swap deal between the health board and Consort – the private company which built and runs the ERI and owns the Little France site where the new Sick Kids will be situated – have been finalised.

With the agreement due to be formally signed off within days, the health board can now look forward to putting the contract to build and run the £250 million hospital out to tender by September.

The hospital will be built under a non-profit distribution model, a similar arrangement to the private finance initiative which was used to construct the new ERI, which opened in 2003.

The ERI contract, which will see the health board pay £1.26 billion over the course of 25 years to Consort but never own the £170m-valued hospital, is now widely viewed as a ­disaster.

Carol Potter, associate director of finance at NHS Lothian, said experience of the ERI and knowledge of similar privately-financed public sector building projects in Scotland would be taken on board.

“The original contract at the ERI was put in place a long time ago. I don’t think anybody would deny that things would be done differently if we could do it again,” she said.

“But lessons from the ERI and similar projects in Scotland will be learned and we are confident the contract will be a robust one.”

Earlier this month, the Evening News revealed significant progress had been made in negotiations between NHS Lothian and Consort over the land swap deal.

The agreement will see NHS Lothian take over a main car park site next to the ERI, where the Sick Kids will be built, and then transfer a new nearby car park to Consort in return.

A bank, which was not named, had previously refused to sign off on the swap and the stance had threatened to torpedo plans for the new Sick Kids, which was originally due to be up and running by next year.

But news that an agreement had been reached was sent by Consort to NHS Lothian by e-mail on Tuesday afternoon, and formal written confirmation from the unnamed bank is anticipated by next week.

Ms Potter added: “It’s very good news. It’s always a relief to get something in black and white. It’s taken a considerable amount of time – hundreds of hours. We would also like to thank Consort for their assistance. The Sick Kids we have at the moment is not fit for purpose. The new centre will provide world-class healthcare for children at a new site next to the Royal Infirmary.”

Once the land swap agreement is signed off, a further deal, around enabling works on the Little France site, will have to be struck. But it is not expected to prove a major obstacle and the new Sick Kids is set to open in 2017.

Dr Charles Winstanley, chairman of the NHS Lothian board, said: “It’s excellent news after what was a worrying delay.”