Hospital threatens to sue firm over “life-threatening” blunders


HEALTH chiefs have threatened legal action against the private firm that runs one of Scotland’s biggest hospitals.

Alan Boyter, Executive Director of NHS Lothian, said they could “no longer tolerate” serious problems at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, which is managed by Consort.

The announcement from Mr Boyter came just hours after it was reported that a patient had to be sewn up by torchlight after Consort workers cut the power at the hospital.

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, which is managed by Consort.


Two operating theatres at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary were plunged into darkness when staff from a private firm started scheduled maintenance work too early.

Workers from Consort switched off electricity while the theatres were still in use, instead of waiting until surgery was over.

Theatre staff  were forced to use emergency procedures to keep monitoring systems running, after the back up system failed to start.

They also used torches to keep the patient illuminated while the surgeon completed the operation.

The incident is the latest in a series of mishaps by Consort. Mr Boyter 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.”


Consort Healthcare (Edinburgh) is the concession company awarded in 1998 the 30 year contract to design and build the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and then to provide facilities management and non-clinical services associated with the hospital.

Consort Healthcare is a consortium of Balfour Beatty Capital and investment partners. The firm’s website boasts: “Working in partnership with NHS Trusts, Balfour Beatty Capital provides first class hospital facilities which enable healthcare professionals to concentrate on delivering modern clinical services.”

NHS Lothian said that Consort had “failed” to follow procedure by switching off electricity before the surgery was complete.

Staff will face disciplinary action following the blunder, with Consort being fined.

Dr David Farquharson, medical director for NHS Lothian said the hospital felt  “let down” by Consort.

He said: “The safety of patients is paramount in NHS Lothian and we have systems in place to ensure that power is never lost from any operating theatre.

“Planned maintenance was due to be carried out on the power supply after surgery was complete, but Private Finance Initiative (PFI) provider Consort failed to follow our critical procedures. Disciplinary procedures are now under way.

“Our team of expert staff worked admirably using well-rehearsed business continuity plans to ensure that the patient did not come to any harm.


“We feel let down that our patients and staff were put in this position and we have met with Consort, a penalty will be imposed,” he added.

Union Tom Waterson, of Unison, said the incident highlighted “concerns” he had about Consort, saying: “It highlights that the PFI consortia put finance first as opposed to putting patients first.

“Again we have seen the risk transfer goes to the patients and not to the private company. It again highlights concerns we have had since the contract was signed that this is a company that cannot be trusted with the health of the people of Edinburgh and the Lothians.”

Consort director Stephen Gordon said the power had been cut for around ten minutes.

He said: “Consort has taken the incident very seriously and have undertaken a thorough investigation into this matter in conjunction with NHS Lothian to review the current operating procedures in place for works of this nature.”

Labour’s health spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, said: “It just defies belief. I think the time has come that we need an independent inquiry into this to ensure this never happens again.”