The opening of Edinburgh’s new children’s hospital has been delayed once again over a ventilation issue after a last-minute crisis meeting – just hours before staff and patients were due to move to the new site.
Inspections of the £150 million replacement for the Sick Kids at Little France – which has been besieged by delays – uncovered failures to meet multiple national safety standards in critical care wards.
But critics have hammered the decision as “deeply distressing” after it was revealed patients faced an “indefinite” wait to access the facility following a hastily arranged meeting on Thursday afternoon, with some calling on Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to resign.
In a social media post, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon placed the blame for the delay on NHS Lothian for not identifying the hazard sooner, tweeting: “This delay to the opening of the new Edinburgh Sick Kids is deeply regrettable.
“Jeane Freeman has instructed an investigation to find out why the problem with the ventilation was discovered by the health board so late.
“And in the meantime she is right to prioritise patient safety.”
The new 233-bed hospital will form part of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh campus, providing care for children and young people to around 16 years of age.
The migration of 62 children’s services – and the Department of Clinical and Adolescent Mental Health Services – from the existing site at Sciennes to the new hospital next to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, was due to take place between July 5 and July 15.
On July 9, the Children’s Emergency Department had been due to open its doors to new patients, with planned appointments due to take place a week later.
The health board has now been instructed to set out their plan to phase the move from the old hospital to the new site once it is safe to do so.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “There is no greater responsibility of the NHS than to ensure the clinical safety of their patients, not least when those patients are children. In order to be absolutely sure that patient safety is delivered, I have no choice but to postpone NHS Lothian’s planned move to the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People.
“It is vital that patient safety remains paramount, which is why I have asked the health board to stop all moves until assurances have been given that the new site is entirely compliant with the relevant health technical standards.
“Departments within the hospital will move over on a phased basis as soon as it is safe to do so. This work will benefit from external quality assurance from Health Facilities Scotland and Health Protection Scotland and the plan for these moves will be submitted to Scottish Government for approval.
“While this issue has been caught by the final safety checks, I am disappointed and deeply concerned that this was not identified earlier. I have asked that Health Facilities Scotland undertake an investigation to determine how the hospital got to this advanced stage before it was discovered that the ventilation system fell below the standards expected. This work will cover both technical and governance aspects of the project.
“We will continue to be in close contact with the health board throughout this period to ensure the health and safety of patients remains the key focus.”
NHS Lothian Chief Executive, Tim Davison said: “Patient safety is paramount, and following the handover of the new hospital NHS Lothian has continued to monitor facilities at the new site to ensure all systems are operating to national standards.
“Following advice from an independent advisor, I fully accept the Health Secretary’s decision to reschedule the move to the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People. The air environment is extremely important and can help prevent the occurrence and spread of infection in patients who are already vulnerable.
“We are extremely disappointed that we cannot move as planned and I am very sorry for the disappointment this will cause to patients, their families and staff affected by this delay. However, patient safety must always come first.”
UNISON, the largest health trade union in Scotland, has expressed deep frustration at the Scottish government’s latest decision to halt the scheduled move of Royal Hospital for Children and Young People to its new site next week.
Thomas Waterson, chair of UNISON Scotland’s health committee said: “We are shocked that this announcement has come at such a late stage. And frustrated that the Cabinet Secretary for Health has put out a press release before any staff had been informed. Obviously patient safety is paramount but if there are health and safety issues then the appropriate action was required long before this late stage. We were supposed to move into the new hospital next week. The Scottish government statement also makes no mention of the Department of Clinical Neuroscience which was due to move on Monday. Is this also delayed?
“The Scottish government has spent years planning this move, so to have further delays particularly at this late stage for health and safety is simply unacceptable. Staff and patients have put up with a substandard building and facilities for far too long. The Scottish government must show staff respect they deserve and give them details of what is happening going forward. So we can explain this to our patients and provide world class health care.”