The Royal Hospital for Sick Children

Tuesday August 13th 2019

Michelle Ballantyne, South Scotland MSP

Written by Michelle Ballantyne, South Scotland MSP

Do you believe that the people you put into Government should have the experience and expertise to run Scotland PLC?’ That was a question I was asked when I first entered politics.

Sadly you can have great ideas and a great moral stance on issues but if you do not have the skills and understanding of how to deliver large complicated projects and policies, your ideas may never see the light of day or worse, you may replace one system or structure with a less effective one; spending millions of your constituents pounds along the way.

Although it’s not an issue that elections are won or lost on, the ability of political parties and their elected members to run public departments effectively is a key pillar of good governance.

However, It is only when a Government colossally fails in its ambitions that it will start to command the attention of the wider public, who will rightly then start to question the Government’s competence in delivering.

This is why it’s unlikely that many people noticed, or wondered why, I asked the Health Secretary during the Scottish Parliament’s last sitting day before the summer recess, if she had received assurances that the Royal Hospital for Sick Children would be safe to open on the scheduled date of the 9th July.

The new Sick Kids is one of the biggest hospital infrastructure projects overseen by the SNP, coming close on the heels of Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH). Many experts had highlighted that there were a range of mistakes made when designing and building QEUH which have led to serious consequences. Sadly, these mistakes have made it more difficult for medical practitioners to ensure high quality care for their patients and has increased the burden to taxpayers as the problems have brought unexpected costs.

So when I asked Jeane Freeman, the SNP’s Cabinet Secretary for Health, for an assurance these mistakes had not been repeated she reiterated her belief that her government had learnt its lessons from past failings.

A month and a half later, and it’s clear this could not be further from the truth. The new Royal Hospital for Sick Children has now been indefinitely delayed, and the necessary repair works are set to cost the taxpayer an estimated further £90 million – or 20% of the initial project cost.

The SNP have ordered numerous investigations into what went wrong. This includes looking into the very same ventilation that, little over a month ago, Ms. Freeman assured me wouldn’t suffer the same problems as QEUH.

As voters, we all get excited when big infrastructure projects are announced. Yet, we rarely take a moment to consider that it’s our money that’s being used to fund these projects and we have a right to expect both quality and value for money from these enterprises.

There are lots of questions to be asked about why Ms Freeman told me that she had tasked NHS Lothian to make sure everything was alright and she had received assurances that it was. Do those below her not feel able to tell her what is really going on? Did she not listen to the warning bells? Or does she simply not have the skills required to see what others could see; that if you repeat the same process you get the same results, another flawed build riddled with problems.

Enquiries will be undertaken, Ms Freeman will endeavour to lay blame for the failure, but the stark reality remains, the money has already been spent and there is no way to turn the clock back. Costs are mounting and the SNP will do everything they can to make the public look the other way. One thing I can say with absolute certainty the usual blame game offered by the SNP will not be available to them on this occasion as this is neither the fault of Brexit or the UK Government, so Ms Freeman will have to dig deep to try and avoid the fallout from this mess.

Michelle Ballantyne raising her question with Jeane Freeman in the Scottish Parliament.

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