Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children enquiry

Wednesday September 18th 2019

e Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children

Written by Michelle Ballantyne, South Scotland MSP

If you’ve been following the recent developments on the serious issues around the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children, and for those who spend your Wednesday afternoons watching Parliament debates, this column will come as no surprise as it reflects what I said in Parliament.

Many of you will agree that every step of this fiasco has raised more questions than it has answered. Who is responsible, when will they sort this mess out and how could this have happened, are all questions politicians have frequently been asked over the past few weeks.

Earlier this week, we were told there would be a public enquiry at the expense of the public purse; coming hot on the heels of the Cabinet Secretary making it clear last Wednesday that she thought a public enquiry would serve no purpose, a cynic will almost certainly wonder if perhaps the First Minister thought differently as she dealt with calls for heads to roll; or perhaps the Cabinet Secretary was advised that it would buy her time to deflect questions by pointing to the forthcoming enquiry.

There are still many questions that need answered and there are many technical documents which need to be examined to offer a deeper insight into what went wrong. However, my concern is that some key questions will remain unanswered.

It’s not enough to simply find out where the problems lie. The public need to understand what the Scottish Governments role was and if there was any political pressure to cut corners and speed up the build. Perhaps more importantly, did they ignore the warning signs and information that was passed to them either in formal meetings or by concerned individuals or directly as a result of the issues that had arisen in Glasgow.

The SNP’s Health Secretary maintains that the Government had no knowledge of what was happening at the Edinburgh Children’s’ Hospital and perversely blamed Brexit, NHS Lothian and the contractor and during the debate other contributions claimed that the SNP had successfully delivered builds on time and on budget in other places. The message was clear; when a hospital is successfully built it is a Government project, but when problems arise the Government distance themselves and claim no knowledge or involvement.

Meanwhile, the staff, parents and children who work at or depend on the hospital could be forgiven for thinking that the Cabinet Secretary’s interest and outrage is a little late as they unpack their boxes and are faced with another year or more in a hospital that is no longer fit for purpose.

They are right to be asking why the Government is acting like it has no responsibility for this fiasco as they struggle with aging or non-functioning equipment that they were not allowed to replace because there was a newly equipped hospital on the horizon.

Claims that the Cabinet Secretary and her Government were unaware of any potential problems look trite when we read in the KPMG report that there were a lot of meetings and exchanges of information. And whilst the report points towards human error – a misinterpretation of the standards at the outset of the tender, it also makes clear that there were lots of missed opportunities to catch and rectify the problems.

After the serious defects at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow, surely any competent Government would have sought independent reassurance that the Edinburgh Children’s Hospital was going to meet all the required standards. Particularly as it was using the same basic design and the same contractor

The Cabinet Secretary says she didn’t know there were any problems until the 2nd July. Surely, I can’t be alone in thinking it was her job to know.

I am glad that the Cabinet Secretary made the decision not to open the hospital; it was the right thing to do in the circumstances, and I welcome the conversation about creating a robust experienced board to lead on future builds,

But if Jeane Freeman really did not know that the Edinburgh Children’s Hospital had design flaws until a few days before it was due to open then politicians, and the electorate, are right to ask; was this incompetence?

Did the Cabinet Secretary not seek adequate reassurance to ensure that this build was to the correct standards? Or was it naiveté and a failure to recognise risk as the SNP live by their mantra of refusing to take lessons from anyone else?

Either way the SNP’s primary focus now seems to be finding someone to take the fall so that the Government can say they have dealt with it.

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