A senior trade unionist has revealed fears that the new £150m hospital for sick children in Edinburgh may have to be ripped down over safety concerns, prompting demands for a recall of Parliament.

Unison official Tam Waterson, who represents NHS staff in Edinburgh, said drainage at the troubled facility is a bigger worry than the ventilation issues that led to the Government blocking the opening of the hospital.

He said that NHS Lothian, which is responsible for the project, had paid millions in a settlement to help resolve some of the problems, but claimed that senior figures at the organisation are unsure if the changes would be sufficient.

He alleged that the SNP Government had excluded the unions and said Nicola Sturgeon's administration wants to get rid of the NHS Lothian chief executive Tim Davison. Waterson also criticised Health Secretary Jeane Freeman: “She is cold and has no empathy. It was one of the First Minister’s biggest mistakes appointing her.”

Labour MSP Monica Lennon said: “This is damning criticism of the Health Secretary from a respected trade unionist that brings into question whether she can carry on.”

Her colleague Lord Foulkes said: "Jeane is to blame because she is ultimately responsible for the health board. Parliament should be recalled."

The new Royal Hospital for Children and Young People, which will have over 200 beds, was supposed to open in July, but Freeman overruled NHS Lothian after last-minute inspections found safety concerns over its ventilation system.

It was not the first delay for a project that has been marred by disputes between the local NHS board and IHSL Lothian, the consortium responsible for building the hospital.

READ MORE: NHS Lothian apologises over failure to send 5,000 letters over delayed care 

After the problems with the ventilation were confirmed, it was reported that there had also been floods in the new hospital’s basement, raising concerns about drainage.

In a later statement Freeman, whose department has effectively taken charge of the ailing project, said that an NHS quango would examine these issues.

"The work carried out by NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) will give quality assurance on the water, ventilation and drainage systems and establish a timeframe for services to move safely to the new hospital."


Although the investigation is expected to be finished this year, no date has been offered by the Government or NHS Lothian for when the hospital will open.

Waterson, who is the chair of Unison’s Scottish health committee, represents 12,500 members in NHS Lothian, including staff who were expected to switch from the existing facility in Edinburgh. He also speaks to management.

In an interview with the Herald on Sunday, he said he had grave concerns about the hospital after talks with senior NHS Lothian figures.

He said ventilation is a big concern, but it is secondary to drainage, which has not received as much coverage:

“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.”

He warned: “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 [the building].”

Waterson also referred to the multi-million-pound settlement paid by NHS Lothian to the contractor.

“I asked them [the senior figures] exactly what the figure was and what it was for...I could see they were very worried about the drainage issues.”

READ MORE:  NHS Lothian predicts £43m financial black hole as board fails to meet targets

He also said parts of the new building are not suitable for a disabled employee: “A member of staff with spina bifida can’t even get her wheelchair through the door.”

Another headache, he said, is what happens if the Sick Kids hospital has to leave its current premises without the new building being ready.

NHS Lothian board papers from November stated that the “long stop date” had been extended to January next year.

He said: “We are going to have nowhere to go if this is not sorted.”

Asked how serious the situation is on a scale of one to ten, Waterson said: “Ten.”

He is of the view that the Government wants to oust Davison: “The Scottish Government is after the chief executive.

“This looks like senior health board figures are being set up as scapegoats, given the command and control from St Andrews House.”

Waterson also said he was told that NHS Lothian was informed by the Government not to talk to the unions in July about the issues behind the delay.

“We are very angry about being kept in the dark. We have been deliberately excluded."

The senior trade unionist has worked with all SNP Health Secretaries - Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Neil, Shona Robison and Freeman - but said of the current post holder: “She is the worst Cabinet Secretary I have ever experienced.”

Waterson, who said that the unions will meet Freeman later this month, added: “She’s not got a good relationship with the trade unions. She’s not a people person.”

Asked if the hospital controversy raised questions about Freeman’s future, he said: “Yes. She is accountable. If things go wrong on her watch, then it is down to her.”

Lennon added: “Not only is this a brutal assessment of her record, it shows that Jeane Freeman has little regard for trade unions and puts her reputation before the interests of their members. It’s disgraceful that unions have been sidelined and this can’t be good for NHS staff morale.

“This intervention must be a wake-up call for the Health Secretary. That the new Edinburgh Sick Kids could be ripped down before it even opens is unthinkable and a public inquiry must get underway.”

Scottish Tory shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said:

“This new hospital was meant to provide world-class care facilities for children across Edinburgh and the east of Scotland. Instead, it’s been a complete farce from the start and, judging by these warnings, things could get even worse.

“The contract not just with the Sick Kids but the whole Little France site has been an unmitigated disaster. This has unravelled on the SNP government’s watch, and it needs to start taking responsibility.”

HeraldScotland: Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman answered questions regarding the ongoing review of additional welfare powers being devolved

Picure: Health Secretary Jeane Freeman

A Scottish Government spokesperson 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.”

Professor Alex McMahon, who is the Nurse Director at NHS Lothian, said: “There are a number of independent reviews and investigations underway 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.

“An Oversight Board, made up of Scottish Government, NHS Lothian, National Services Scotland and Scottish Futures Trust, has been established in order to provide co-ordinated 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 spokesperson for IHSL said: “The works on the hospital were signed off as complete by the Independent Tester on 22nd February 2019, when the building was handed into the possession and operation of NHS Lothian. We will provide whatever assistance is required to NHS Lothian, to the extent any modifications to the building are now deemed necessary.”


2017: The new purpose-built Royal Hospital for Children and Young People (the ‘Sick Kids’) was supposed to have opened.

April 2018: The Sunday Herald reports that NHS Lothian has threatened to take legal action against the consortium responsible for building the hospital over the ventilation design in some of the wards

November 2018: reports that there is no completion date yet for the hospital

July 4th 2019: The Scottish Government postpones the opening of the new hospital over concerns about the ventilation

July 4th 2019: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says the delay is “deeply regrettable” and says an investigation will find out why the ventilation problem was discovered by NHS Lothian “so late”

July 15th 2019: Reports that the basement of the new hospital flooded twice last year due to drainage problems.

August 2nd 2019. It is reported that NHS Lothian has been paying around £1.4m a month for the hospital, despite it not being ready.