Health Secretary under pressure over troubled hospital

5 August 2019, 07:47

Jeane Freeman

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman's position has been called into question over the troubled new children's hospital in Edinburgh.

Labour politicians have questioned whether she can carry on and said Parliament should be recalled to deal with the matter.

The Scottish Conservatives want public spending watchdog Audit Scotland to investigate.

The Royal Hospital for Children and Young People was due to open last month but Ms Freeman stepped in to overrule NHS Lothian and delay the opening following failed safety checks.

Since February, the health board has been paying around £1.4 million a month for the empty hospital to developers Integrated Health Solutions Lothian (IHSL) under the 25-year private finance deal agreed for the new building.

It has also paid the private consortium £11.6 million in a settlement agreement.

Now, Unison official Tam Waterson, who represents NHS staff in Edinburgh, warned some people fear it may have to be demolished and said Ms Freeman should be held accountable.

He told the Herald on Sunday newspaper: "We know the drainage is not fit for purpose.

"It's been flooded twice with nobody in it. There is a school of thought that they might have to rip it down."

He added: "My understanding is that we will not know the full extent of the drainage issues until the hospital is working at full capacity. That is a major health and safety risk.

"My big concern is we open the hospital without doing all the checks, satisfying ourselves the drainage is fine, and we then have to close the hospital."

Labour peer Lord Foulkes told the paper: "Jeane is to blame because she is ultimately responsible for the health board. Parliament should be recalled."

Scottish Labour's health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: "We are learning more about the Edinburgh Sick Kids scandal by the day and now damning criticism of the Health Secretary from a leading trade unionist brings into question whether she can carry on."

She added: "It must be sickening for workers in our cash-strapped NHS to see millions going down the drain and no-one is taking responsibility.

"Ultimately, the buck stops with Jeane Freeman. That the new Edinburgh Sick Kids could be ripped down before it even opens is unthinkable and a public inquiry must get under way."

The Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Conservatives also want an inquiry to be held.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said Ms Freeman and the Scottish Government's management of the situation looks "totally incompetent".

He said the project has been "a complete farce from the start and, judging by these warnings, things could get even worse."

Mr Briggs added: "Scottish Conservatives have called for full transparency around the project and called on the Health and Sport Committee to undertake an enquiry into the project.

"I have today also written to Audit Scotland to ask them to undertake a full audit of the Sick Kids project and the contracts and specifications commission on the hospital."

The NHS is carrying out a review of the water, ventilation and drainage systems at the hospital, ordered by Ms Freeman.

Currently, it is not known when the site will be safe for use.

The hospital is being paid for via the non-profit distributing private finance model supported by the Scottish Government through the Scottish Futures Trust.

The total contracted cost for IHSL to design, build, finance and maintain the hospital over 25 years is £432 million.

Professor Alex McMahon, nurse director at NHS Lothian, said: "There are a number of independent reviews and investigations under way to verify and provide assurance that all aspects of the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People, the Department of Clinical Neurosciences and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services meet the appropriate standards before it becomes operational.

"The decision to delay the move followed the identification of a problem with ventilation in critical care.

"Given the pause in occupation, the commissioned reviews will focus on ventilation and will also look at drainage and water systems as a priority."

He added: "An oversight board, made up of Scottish Government, NHS Lothian, National Services Scotland and Scottish Futures Trust, has been established in order to provide coordinated advice on the readiness of the hospital to open and on the migration of services to the new facility.

"The reviews and subsequent reports will be provided to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and NHS Lothian."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Health Secretary has made clear that her greatest responsibility is the safety of patients, and for this reason decided to delay the move of patients, staff and services to the new hospital.

"Patients and carers have been contacted directly to confirm appointment arrangements and a dedicated helpline remains in place.

"She recognises that many staff share her frustration following the announcement of the delay.

"The Health Secretary and the Chief Medical Officer visited staff at the Sick Kids hospital to hear any concerns they may have, and to offer their personal thanks for the exemplary way in which they have managed the delayed move.

"The Health Secretary will meet again with NHS Lothian staff representatives in the coming weeks.

"It is untrue that the Scottish Government has sought to exclude the trades unions or staff."