£900m repair bill for hospitals prompts patient safety fears

The repair bill for Scotland's ageing hospitals has soared by more than £100 million, prompting opposition fears that patient safety could be put at risk in many facilities.

Saturday, 6th August 2016, 2:18 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 4:31 pm
The Queen Elizabeth University Hospital is part of a £1bn investment in the NHS in recent years, said health secretary Shona Robison. Picture: John Devlin

Maintenance backlog costs now stands at almost £900m, a new government report has found. Opposition parties raised concerns over the “care and safety” of patients being treated in such facilities.

Ministers insist about £1 billion has been pumped into Scotland’s NHS estate in the past five years to deliver the new Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

The backlog in maintenance includes £395m where the risk is assessed as “significant or high”, according to the Annual State of NHS Scotland Assets and Facilities Report for 2015. This is up by £25m on the previous year.

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NHS Scotland has now earmarked £180m of sell-offs of old hospitals and medical facilities over the next five years as part of a drive to deal with the problem.

The report states: “Although backlog is identified as an expenditure requirement, in practice it is likely to be addressed by a combination of estate rationalisation and disposal of older properties, avoiding the need for expenditure on backlog.

“Replacing older properties with new facilities avoids the need for expenditure on backlog, for example the completion of the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow and further estate rationalisation once the new hospital replacement projects are completed in Dumfries and Orkney.”

Greater Glasgow and Clyde has the highest maintenance bill, of £269m, while NHS Grampian is the next highest, facing a bill of £152m.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Donald Cameron urged ministers to address the situation.

“The NHS is under tremendous pressure financially, and this eye-watering sum only adds to that,” he said.

“But aside from the cost, there could well be care and safety issues too. Patients cannot be treated in buildings that are falling to pieces. It’s important the SNP turns its mind to tackling this issue urgently.”

As well as sell-offs, maintenance can also be incorporated into major redevelopments at hospitals which can also help reduce the costs.

But health secretary Shona Robison said: “Over the past five years we have invested around £1bn to deliver two of the largest acute hospitals ever built in Scotland.

“Health boards also remain focussed on ensuring that their existing estate and facilities deliver value for money, are safe, and fit for purpose. This is highlighted in the report through the improved condition, functionality and utilisation of the NHS estate over the past 12 months.”

Almost two-thirds of Scotland’s NHS facilities are classed as being in good condition, which is up from 58 per cent in 2014. The facilities with “good” functional suitability have also gone up 72 per cent from 65 per cent in 2014, the report adds.

Labour health spokesperson Anas Sarwar said: “The SNP have allowed our NHS to fall into disrepair with a near billion-pound bill to fix the problems with our hospitals and our medical equipment.

“Our NHS is Scotland’s most-valued public service. Scots will be horrified to see these costs increase at a time when the SNP won’t give our health service the resources it needs. NHS staff do amazing, life-saving work and they deserve the best possible resources.

“SNP health minister Shona Robison has been facing calls from NHS staff to stop underfunding our most vital public service.

“Patients and staff deserve better. Scottish Labour will continue to press for our NHS to get the resources it needs.”