Scottish Hospitals Inquiry to resume this week

Published: 4-May-2022

Probe looks to learn lessons from health and safety issues which delayed the opening of flagship new children's hospital

An inquiry will resume today into the errors and safety concerns that led to delays opening a new £150m children’s hospital in Edinburgh.

The world-class Royal Hospital for Sick Children and Young People in little France on the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary campus should have opened in July 2019, but the project suffered months of delays after final inspections revealed safety concerns over the ventilation system.

Following the fiasco, which saw the Government postpone the hospital’s launch just a day before the planned opening, NHS Lothian commissioned a report from auditors, Grant Thornton, which discovered a ‘human error’ in a spreadsheet created in 2012 outlining the airflow specifications for critical care rooms at the development.

Instead of the mandated 10 air changes every hour to prevent the spread of infections, the spreadsheet error meant contractors were working to a plan demanding just four air changes an hour.

Although the report concluded that it was not possible to identify one single event which resulted in the errors, it found that the problem was due to ‘collective failure from the parties involved’.

Subsequent repair work on the site cost over £20m and the opening of the hospital was delayed for over a year.

A formal inquiry was then launched, with the first programme of oral hearings concluding in November last year.

The ongoing Scottish Hospitals Inquiry, which will resume today, aims to determine how issues relating to ventilation, water contamination, and other matters impacted on patient safety and care and whether they could have been avoided.

It is also exploring problems at the flagship £850m Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, which opened in 2015.

Giving evidence

Since opening, the hospital has been hit by a series of scandals, including outbreaks of deadly infections linked to water quality and ventilation systems.

And, earlier this year, it was revealed that health chiefs are set to rip down walls at the hospital over fears of a lack of fire-retardant sheeting on cavity insulation which could pose a fire hazard.

Next week the second oral hearing will begin, focusing on two main themes - the role of ventilation in a hospital setting; and the early planning stages of the hospital development and the adjacent new Department of Clinical Neurosciences.

Evidence relating to the first point will include reports and statements from the inquiry’s appointed experts in the fields of ventilation and infection control.

Their evidence will focus on technical aspects of ventilation, such as standards and guidance provided to developers on ventilation within a hospital.

The ventilation systems installed at the Glasgow and Edinburgh hospitals will be the focus of future hearings.

Technical requirements

The second theme will explore the early stages of the Edinburgh project, which includes the adjacent new building housing the Department of Clinical Neurosciences.

It will look at the development of the business case for the hospital and the governance structures in place at the time.

Inquiry chairman, Lord Brodie, said: “It is important that the Inquiry understands the technical requirements of ventilation in hospitals, so that we can better identify what went wrong with the ventilation systems installed at the hospitals we are investigating.

“ Our forthcoming hearing will explore the required ventilation standards in a hospital setting, which will undoubtedly lead us to understand the complex challenges and specific issues of the ventilation systems at the Glasgow and Edinburgh hospitals.”

The hearing will also deal with the roles of NHS Lothian, the Scottish Futures Trust, and the Scottish Government in relation to the early development of the Edinburgh project.

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