Edinburgh's Drumbrae care home: 'Reopen' calls after councillor reveals NHS never signed lease to take it over

Home’s 60 beds could help ease Edinburgh’s care crisis
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Calls are being made for an Edinburgh care home to reopen and help ease the city's care crisis after plans to convert it to a new use were abandoned.

Council-owned Drumbrae care home shut last year and was to be transferred to NHS Lothian to operate as a centre for complex care, with patients moved there from the ageing Liberton Hospital. But health chiefs decided bringing the Drumbrae building up to the required hospital standards was too expensive – and now it has been revealed NHS Lothian never even signed the lease to take over responsibility for the property from the council.

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Politicians and union leaders said with large numbers of patients stuck in hospital waiting for care places it was a scandal that a 60-bed home was allowed to lie empty.

Drumbrae care home closed last year to become an NHS-managed centre for complex care, but the plan has no been abandoned.  Picture: Ian Georgeson.Drumbrae care home closed last year to become an NHS-managed centre for complex care, but the plan has no been abandoned.  Picture: Ian Georgeson.
Drumbrae care home closed last year to become an NHS-managed centre for complex care, but the plan has no been abandoned. Picture: Ian Georgeson.

Green councillor Claire Miller revealed the NHS’s failure to sign the lease at a public meeting earlier this week. She said: “The NHS agreed they want to take the lease but they haven't actually signed it. It still sits with the council. So the council owns that care home and it's sitting empty and I think that is a scandal.” She told the Evening News she had since established that NHS Lothian would not be signing the lease. Council officials said last month the estimate for the cost of converting Drumbrae for its new role had soared from an initial £300,000 to more than £3 million.

Councillor Miller said: "We've got a care crisis and we desperately need care home places. It seems obvious we should be recommissioning Drumbrae." She said the matter ought to be a priority for the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board (EIJB), which brings together council and NHS representatives to oversee social care in the Capital, but it was not even on the agenda for its meeting next week.

And she claimed information about the lease and any plans for the building was being held back from elected members because it was "embarrassing". She said: "It doesn't look good that two bodies in the public sector that are meant to be integrated and directed by integrated board are actually not able to transfer a simple asset from one to the other and then when it isn't transferred and it's clear it's not going to be transferred they try and hide that. It's really poor in terms of transparency and accountability and really upsetting when people are sitting in hospital waiting for care home places and we have a place standing empty with 60 beds."

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The plan to close Drumbrae and transfer it to the NHS was announced in June 2021 along with proposals for four other council-run homes to close permanently as part of the Bed-Based Care Strategy, which aimed to shift the emphasis to providing care at home. The future of the other four remains uncertain pending a consultation exercise.

But Labour councillor Ross McKenzie said: "This revelation [about the Drumbrae lease] sheds further light on what appears to be a scandalous mismanagement of public resources. At a time when care home beds are so precious, the EIJB has removed a modern 60-bed home from circulation while the council continues to pick up the tab for the building. The authors of the Bed-Based Care Strategy need to take responsibility for its complete failure. The strategy should be binned and replaced with a vision of how the council can expand direct provision of long term care based on need".

And David Harrold from Unison said: "If the city has a problem with delayed discharge we need to open this 60-bed unit to alleviate that problem. Prior to its closure this was the care home held up by the council as state of the art and something we could be proud of and yet it was snatched away from us. Now it seems the NHS don't want the building, but we need it. We're going to have a hard winter and we need these beds now."

NHS Lothian said: "The discussions regarding Drumbrae care home are still ongoing, therefore we are unable to provide any more information at this stage." And the council said: “We don’t have any further comment or information at this stage. Discussions are ongoing.”