A FRESH row over hospital building standards has broken out after it emerged that a firm currently being sued by the Irish Government over dozens of defective schools is in the running to build a 30-bed ward at Forth Valley Royal Hospital.

The Herald understands that Wester Building Systems is the favoured bidder for the £3 million contract.

It comes despite board members at NHS Forth Valley raising concerns about the firm’s suitability amid an ongoing legal dispute with Ireland’s Department of Education over structural defects at 42 schools.

One Dublin school was partially closed in 2018 due to safety concerns, while staff and pupils at two other schools have had to relocate to new premises.

Opposition parties said the prospect of Western being awarded the contract for the Larbert hospital was “deeply concerning” in light of the design and build flaws which have already plagued two of Scotland’s biggest NHS projects - the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow and the delayed Royal Hospital for Children and Young People in Edinburgh.

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It will be up to the Scottish Government to sign off on the contract based on the recommendations of NHS Forth Valley’s leadership.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “If the Scottish Government gives this contract the green light, despite members of the health board raising concerns about the safety record of the building firm, the public will be right to question if any lessons have been learned.

“We simply cannot have any more hospital construction scandals in Scotland.

“Patient safety must come first.

“Flagship hospitals in Glasgow and Edinburgh are facing a public inquiry because of botched construction and safety breaches.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs has now written to Health Secretary Jeane Freeman asking what assurances the Scottish Government has been given about the project.

He said: “The SNP record on NHS construction projects is deeply concerning as we have seen with the ongoing problems at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow and the new Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh.

"We need to make sure all due process has been followed and that these projects will be safe.”

It comes in a year which has seen the Queen Elizabeth University campus in Glasgow embroiled in a scandal over infections linked to contaminated water and the opening of the new children’s hospital in Edinburgh stalled amid problems with its ventilation.

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The construction of a 30-bed ward is nowhere near as complex at the flagship hospital builds in Glasgow and Edinburgh, however.

The facility would also be mainly used to accommodate patients undergoing routine operations such as hip and knee replacements rather than cancer patients highly vulnerable to infections.

Nonetheless, the schools row in Ireland has been bitter and officials in Scotland should be wary of any repeat here.

In the past year, structural checks have identified defects requiring urgent or precautionary repairs at 39 schools built by Western.

This followed the discovery of “significant structural issues” at Ardgillan Community College in County Dublin, and problems at two other schools which forced them to move premises.

In March 2019, Ireland’s Department of Education lodged legal action against Western, but in April the firm countersued for €750,000 (£647,000) in overdue payments.

Western Building Systems stresses that the NHS Forth Valley project - which they confirmed they have bid for - is a “different build system” from the disputed schools.

A spokesman for the County Tyrone-based firm said it would “vigorously contest” the case, adding that the government has provided “no evidence to support [its] claims”.

He said: “To date evidence of any alleged defects have never been published and the scope and findings of the Department’s own works have never been made public.”

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A spokeswoman for NHS Forth Valley stressed that no final decision has been made yet.

She said: “The contract to build the small ward extension has not yet been awarded and we are currently going through the appropriate procurement process.”

The development at the Forth Valley Royal is part of a £17m investment from the Scottish Government designed to cut waiting times for elective surgery.

It has already used the fund to purchase a second MRI scanner and launch the first of two new operating theatres, which will take the total number to 16.

The spokeswoman added that the new 30-bed modular ward for day-case and overnight patients was a “relatively simple and straightforward project” which they expected to open next summer.

She added: “This new ward will be housed in a small single storey extension at the rear of the hospital and will provide inpatient care for patients undergoing planned orthopaedic and general surgery.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “The Health Secretary has announced a statutory public inquiry to examine issues at the hospitals and ensure that all lessons are learned, and we are also establishing a new national Centre of Expertise with responsibility for the oversight of the design, construction and maintenance of major infrastructure developments within NHS Scotland.”