There’s been a lot of coverage in the last week of the eye-watering cost of the new Edinburgh Children’s Hospital and when it will finally open.
Audit Scotland revealed contractual issues have added an extra £90 million to the cost for NHS Lothian, and now fears have been raised over its future. In the midst of this though, there is the community at the heart of this story, the staff and patients of the hospital who still inhabit the site at Sciennes.
For them, the cost of what has happened is much more immediate. I’ve been told of staff who moved house to be nearer the new hospital and now face travel chaos every day. Support services such as the canteen have closed in the old site in preparation for the move, leaving staff and patients in a difficult position.
Some staff are so stretched they now find themselves missing meals because they don’t have time to leave the premises.
I’m in awe of just how hard NHS staff work, the nurses at Edinburgh’s children’s hospital especially. They are working long shifts and dedicating so much of their being into ensuring those they treat are a child first and a patient second.
I heard one clear example of this recently. The Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity laid on an ice cream van to lift the spirits of staff during one of those stiflingly hot days recently. The queue was apparently round the block.
One nurse took her ice cream back to the ward and promptly gave it to the child she was treating because she thought they had seemed glum.
The dedication of these people is awe-inspiring, but what we must not do is take it for granted.
We don’t yet know when the new state-of-the-art hospital will be available to move into, and their work is hard enough without having such uncertainty hanging over them.
Many of them will be worried about the prospect of further delays and having to move in the middle of winter.
I’ve written to the Health Secretary to highlight the disappointment, stress and concern the delay has caused the community. They deserve more information about exactly why this has happened and a clear timetable for its resolution.
Meanwhile, the developer who is lined up to take over the site in Sciennes will be impatient.
They have paid a lot of money to turn the 1863 building into student and residential flats and they expect to take over a fully decommissioned site in January.
The community campaigned hard for years for their right to buy the site, only to be gazumped by the health board in 2017. The community bid was repeatedly knocked back for technical issues with the application, but before they could complete the bid the site was sold.
We were told at the time that NHS Lothian needed the funds. Now the health board finds itself paying £1.4m a month for a hospital it cannot use, and more potential costs if it cannot hand the building over to this developer.
Meanwhile, as is too often the case, it is the community which is paying the price.
Alison Johnstone is a Lothian Green MSP.