Minister backs legal move over torchlight operation

Scotland’s Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has given her backing to a health board which is taking legal advice after a surgeon was forced to finish an operation by torchlight when contractors shut off the power.

Two operating theatres were affected when maintenance workers switched the power off at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (ERI) last month, meaning one patient was stitched up with only a torch shining.

Surgery which was due to start had to be postponed until power returned.

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It is understood that PFI provider Consort was to carry out planned maintenance work on the emergency power supply after surgery was finished, but switched off the power too early, while doctors were still at work.

NHS Lothian said it was “angry and frustrated” with Consort’s performance, and it was consulting with lawyers to discuss what options it has in relation to the contract.

Ms Sturgeon said yesterday that the health board had her “100 per cent support”. She told BBC Radio Scotland: “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.

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“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.”

She added: “The whole situation underlines the fact that these PFI contracts that were put in place under past administrations... and unfortunately we are now paying the price of that PFI folly.”

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.”

Consort director Stephen Gordon said: “Consort has taken this incident very seriously and have undertaken a thorough investigation into this matter in conjunction with NHS Lothian.”

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Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said the incident was “a disgrace” and “totally unacceptable”. She called for an independent inquiry.

Unison’s Dave Watson said: “The health board should now be seeking an exit from this failed arrangement with Consort and at the very least be looking to bring facilities management at ERI back in-house.”