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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 20:47 GMT
PFI hospital opens its doors
Edinburgh Royal Infirmary
The hospital will eventually employ 5,000 staff
The first operations are being carried out at the new Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

NHS Lothian claims it will be the "finest modern hospital in Europe" when the facility is completed next year.

But unions have described the opening of the hospital - which was financed using private money - as "a sad say for the National Health Service".

It is being built by the Consort Healthcare Consortium - made up of Balfour Beatty Construction, Morrison Development and The Royal Bank of Scotland.

Hospital bed
Patients were undergoing operations on Monday

The project has been financed by the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), which was devised by the former Tory government.

Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm said the project represented "a milestone in the biggest ever hospital building programme in the history of the NHS".

Work on the 210m project - which includes a medical school - began in August 1998.

When completed it will be the biggest hospital project in the UK, with 900 beds, 24 operating theatres and 25 wards.

Patients' needs

The new building, which will employ some 5,000 staff, will eventually replace the old Royal Infirmary in the centre of the city.

Staff have already transferred from the Princess Margaret Rose Hospital, while the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion will move to the new building later this year.

All the facilities from the old Royal Infirmary are due to move to the new site by the summer of 2003.

However, unions say there are other ways in which hospital projects could be financed.

Jim Devine
Jim Devine: "A sad day"
Jim Devine, Unison's head of health in Scotland, said: "It is a sad day for the National Health Service in how this has been funded.

"This hospital has been built by the private sector, it is owned by the private sector and it is maintained by the private sector."

He said that the hospital itself would cost 184m to build - but almost 1.5bn would have to be paid back to the consortium over the next 30 years.

"There are less nurses, there are less doctors, there are less beds, and the skill mix of nurses has been changed quite significantly," he added.

And he claimed that the Labour administration had privatised more health care workers' jobs in the last seven months than the Tory government did in seven years.

We have a public private partnership, but it is one that we are sure will provide value for money

Deputy Health Minister Mary Mulligan
However, Deputy Health Minister Mary Mulligan defended the project and said she was "very pleased" to see the opening of a new hospital.

"We have a public private partnership, but it is one that we are sure will provide value for money," she told BBC Scotland.

She said that expanding more services into the community may lead to fewer staff in the hospital building.

But she stressed that the decision on staffing levels came down to the health professionals.

"They are the ones who are delivering on a daily basis, they are the ones that are working with the patients, and I think it is very important that we listen to what they are saying," she said.

Health correspondent Eleanor Bradford
"This is the third and largest hospital to be built using the PFI"
BBC Scotland's Morag Kinniburgh reports
"Critics have voiced fears that this amounts to privatisation of the NHS"
Jim Devine, Unison health spokesman
"There are major concerns about the funding of this project"
Deputy Health Minister Mary Mulligan
"Public private partnerships are part of the way we are taking forward public service delivery"
See also:

01 Sep 01 | Scotland
Blair impressed with PFI hospital
06 Jul 98 | Latest News
'PFI will cost jobs and beds'
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