SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon backs hospital over PFI blackout

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By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has slammed a PFI provider after it emerged surgeons were forced to carry out an operation by torchlight at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.
 
The Health Secretary has given her backing to NHS Lothian after it emerged PFI provider ‘Consort’ had switched off power whilst doctors were still performing an operation.

The PFI provider is believed to be paid £60m in order to look after the hospital.  The lack of power meant that other operations had to be postponed until power was switched back on.

NHS Lothian said it was consulting lawyers to see what its position was with regards to the PFI contract, the SNP’s Health Secretary backed the board 100 per cent.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said: “The most important thing is patient safety so let me stress first of all that the health board has robust contingency plans in place for any situations that might arise.

“But make no mistake about it – I share NHS Lothian’s anger about this.

“It’s totally unacceptable that this company isn’t performing to the standards expected of it, particularly given the huge amounts of public money that it gets paid.

“NHS Lothian is right to demand that the company gets its act together. It’s absolutely right to look at all of its legal options and they have my 100 per cent support in doing that.”

She added: “The whole situation underlines the fact that these PFI contracts that were put in place under past administrations – and this one was put in place before the Scottish Parliament even existed – they simply didn’t put the public interest first and unfortunately we are now paying the price of that PFI folly.

“NHS Lothian has signalled that they are going to consult their lawyers. I think they’re right to do that and I think they now have to look at all options.”

Alan Boyter, executive director of the health board, said: “We have reached the point where we can no longer tolerate the repeated, serious and potentially life-threatening nature of these incidents at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh by our PFI provider Consort.

“We are currently consulting with our lawyers to discuss what options we have in relation to the contract and it would be inappropriate to comment further while that is ongoing.

“Patient safety is always our absolute priority and we will not allow that to continually be put in danger by a third party.

“We are angry and frustrated with the performance of our PFI provider Consort.”

PFI contracts were a legacy of previous Labour administrations, it was favoured by Labour for funding big building projects.

However there have been claims that huge profits have been made as a result.  Hairmyres Hospital in South Lanarkshire cost £68m but the contractor will get 10 times that over the next 30 years.

Some leases granted by Labour last for over a century.  The contract for the new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary building lasts 25 years but the lease of on the land is for 130 years.

PFI was scrapped by the SNP when they came to power in 2007 and the alternative Scottish Futures Trust was set-up.

In 2010 Newsnet Scotland revealed that PFI contracts were hitting local authority education budgets.  It emerged that in 2008-09 PFI contracts took a £244 million chunk out of Scottish education, this was an increase of £62 million on the 2007-08 figure.

According to the Guardian newspaper, the last Labour government gave its ministers no choice but to use PFI to build new houses and hospitals – despite the fact that in some cases it could have been cheaper for the state to fund them directly.

In 2009, Unison called for PFI to be scrapped describing it as a system of borrowing from the private sector to hide public debt which “has been a long and wasteful experiment” and “it is time to bring to a close”.