SNP should come clean about NHS building projects - Alex Cole-Hamilton

As an MSP for nearly eight years, I’ve had my fair share of grillings. I’ve been put through my paces by all kinds of groups and organisations as I work to keep them updated on the workings of the Scottish Parliament or simply meet with them and answer their questions.
Keep Edinburgh Eye Pavilion campaignersKeep Edinburgh Eye Pavilion campaigners
Keep Edinburgh Eye Pavilion campaigners

Among the most redoubtable of these has to be the Corstorphine Sight Loss Group, led by the indefatigable Hazel Kelly. They are a fierce, but well meaning bunch and woe betide anyone who comes before them either unprepared or unwilling to give them a fair hearing.

Early on in my tenure as MSP for Edinburgh Western they enlisted my support to press for the long-awaited construction of a replacement for the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion. This was a campaign that they had fought for years. At one stage it looked like the battle had been lost with patients told they would have to go to St Johns in Livingston for their future eye care needs.

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But thanks to the work of Hazel, her group and like minded campaigners, the new pavilion project was resurrected and aside from a delay caused by Covid, we could all see a line of sight to it coming to fruition. Then came the publication of this year’s SNP/Green budget and with it a hard stop, not just on the Eye Pavillion, but the majority of long awaited NHS construction projects which had not yet broken ground.

In addition to the Eye Pavilion, the list of projects put into the deep freeze include NHS Lothian’s National Treatment Centre, another critical project that will be essential in our efforts to reduce NHS waiting times and improving patient experience.

All around the country, new hospital buildings are being shelved and critical redesigns suspended to the abject dismay of patient groups and clinicians alike. It’s hard to overstate how catastrophic and shortsighted the decision to suspend these projects is. Patient care will suffer and our frontline workers will be forced to operate for longer in buildings that are unsound and no longer fit for purpose.

Naturally the SNP sought to explain this decision with the usual nod to grievance that comes with every bit of bad news – by seeking to blame London. But that simply won’t fly at a time when the Scottish Government are proposing to spend billions of pounds on a top down reorganisation and centralisation of social care services.

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There are huge problems with the social care system in this country – poor pay and conditions, a lack of staff development, a lack of opportunities for care recipients and families to have their say – but none of these challenges are solved by giving more powers to SNP ministers. We should be stamping out waste and ensuring the money is spent on the frontline.

An NHS construction consultant told me last week, that if capital projects like the Eye Pavilion are not allowed to complete their pre-construction planning work, much of that work, amounting to millions of pounds of investment will be lost as these projects will go back to square one.

If I know one thing for sure though, it’s that groups like Hazel’s will not take no for an answer. They will demand the SNP/Green government are straight about why these projects are being cancelled and they will keep on campaigning until the job is done. They will have my full support along the way.

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP is leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats