Edinburgh's Drumbrae care home saga branded 'absolute disgrace' by councillors

Councillors and unions ‘left in dark’ over what’s happening
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The saga of Edinburgh’s Drumbrae care home, which has lain empty for more than a year after health bosses said the cost of converting it for medical use was too high, has been branded “a fiasco”, “a complete mismanagement of council resources” and “an absolute disgrace”.

And councillors went on to “condemn” the failure to deliver the original plan and call for a recommendation to resolve the situation to be brought forward urgently. Earlier, David Harrold from Unison had told the full council meeting the report presented to councillors from Judith Proctor, chief officer for the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board (EIJB), which oversees health and social care in the Capital, was “inaccurate” and left key questions unanswered.

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Mr Harrold said there had been no consultation with the unions on the “alternative proposal” for Drumbrae which would see NHS Lothian using just the bottom floor of the home for hospital-based complex critical care (HBCCC), providing just 30 beds instead of the 60 originally envisaged. He noted the report said NHS Lothian would fund any required work to the tune of £3 million, but only in regard to the ground floor. “This begs the question, if last year NHS Lothian weren't prepared to pay £3m for an entire building why are they now prepared to spend that same amount of money for half of it?"

Drumbrae care home has been lying empty for 15 months and it is still not clear what will happen to it.Drumbrae care home has been lying empty for 15 months and it is still not clear what will happen to it.
Drumbrae care home has been lying empty for 15 months and it is still not clear what will happen to it.

Tory councillor Max Mitchell said he shared the union’s concerns about the whole situation. And he asked Mr Harrold: “Do you believe senior officials are withholding information from councillors on this?” Mr Harrold replied: “I'm trying to think of a way to answer that diplomatically. The proof of the matter is that many of you, particularly those on the EIJB, have asked questions, asked for information and reports and have not received them, so I suspect you know the answer to that already."

Cllr Mitchell said: “This is a mess and really quite embarrassing. The secrecy around this has been very frustrating and this has to stop.” Labour councillor and EIJB chair Tim Pogson said he shared people’s frustration, regretted the length of time that had been taken and the fact they were still not yet at a "definitive conclusion" but said the report set out some of the complexities of the situation.

But fellow Labour councillor Margaret Graham said: "I had to ask how critical I could be about this report and this is the redacted contribution. I was angry when I read it and I'm still angry now. This situation is an absolute disgrace – a complete mismanagement of council resources.”

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Lib Dem Euan Davidson said the process over the last few months had been “completely unacceptable”. He said: “While I accept this is a complex issue with no easy answers, councillors, board members and stakeholders have been left in the dark. There has been no engagement at all with the trade unions since the latest proposal from NHS Lothian – that's completely unacceptable. These concerns were expressed during the last report five weeks ago – I really struggle to see why no effort has been taken to engage the unions and other stakeholders during that time.”

Green Claire Miller said the decision to transfer Drumbrae from use as a care home to an HBCCC role was part of a wider “bed-based review”, trying to match provision to the needs for different kinds of care. But she said: “This report moves away from the notion of needing to think about the residents and what is required for them and their welfare.”

And she said Drumbrae sitting empty was costing the public money, but it was shown in the EIJB accounts as a saving because despite a “huge amount of bureaucracy” around the integration of health and social care there was still no integrated view of the costs to the public purse. “For me, that is the real scandal. We are not even being enabled to take joined-up decisions on what is best for our residents and the best value for the money we spend.”

Tory councillor Phil Doggart said the saga was “a fiasco”. He pointed out that decisions by the EIJB involved issuing “directions” to NHS Lothian and the council, but in the case of Drumbrae, NHS Lothian had not accepted the direction. He said: “That sets a dangerous precedent. We [on the council] have a responsibility now to examine directions that come from the EIJB and consider whether it suits us to accept them because NHS Lothian has been very clear this direction doesn’t suit them.”