Health chiefs have defended the latest delays to the flagship Baird and Anchor hospitals in Aberdeen.
Earlier this week it was revealed the NHS Grampian projects have slipped further behind schedule – with costs soaring another £16 million to £261m.
The hospitals were originally due to open in 2020.
Fears have been raised that parts of the new-builds at Foresterhill could potentially need pulled out and replaced amid concerns around ventilation and water systems.
Infection control experts only called for changes last autumn – more than a year after ground was broken at the sites.
It emerged they’d had “no capacity” to properly review the plans before then because they were prioritising work on the Covid pandemic.
Reasons for the latest delays
Execs were questioned about the new timeline at an NHS Grampian board meeting today.
The Anchor Centre, providing cancer treatment, was due to start welcoming patients this September. This date has shifted back to October 2023.
Project director Jackie Bremner said a death at the neighbouring Baird site earlier this year led to delays.
The site was closed for several days while the Health and Safety Executive investigated.
Meanwhile the opening date for the Baird Family Hospital, which will replace the city’s maternity offering, has slipped from May to September 2024.
This was also affected by the tragic death, and when one of the mechanical and electrical contractors went into liquidation.
Ms Bremner explained: “The work they’d done was lost. A new subcontractor had to be recruited and the work had to be repeated.”
Health chiefs in ‘peculiar situation’
The board was told that potential design changes could still be required, potentially causing the projects to fall even further behind schedule.
A number of issues have been flagged by infection control experts relating to the likes of ventilation and water systems.
It could mean parts of the structures will need to be torn out and reinstalled to ensure they’re up to spec.
Board member Derick Murray said it was a “peculiar” situation, adding: “There has been a design, a design review and acceptance, and an overview by [other NHS bodies].
“Presumably all of those designs and reviews were carried out by technically capable people following national guidelines.
“Here we are at the very last stage and we’re talking about further redesign.
“Big projects always have these issues – I’ve never seen one that hasn’t – but the design redesign at this stage is a bit of a concern.”
‘An unusual set of circumstances’
NHS Grampian bosses said the requirements for new hospitals in Scotland have evolved since the plans were signed off.
Additionally, tweaks to the design are common once contractors get to work turning the initial high-level proposals into detailed blueprints.
Stephen Lindsay, who is also on the Baird and Anchor board, said: “We have an unusual set of circumstances that go back not just to Covid, but the world has changed since 2015.
“The understanding and expectations on a whole range of issues, including infection prevention and control, have significantly moved on.
“In a ideal situation you would not be making design changes if you didn’t have to but, with the incredibly different context we’re in now, it’s the only correct option.”
Ms Bremner confirmed that construction started “with the understanding it was a compliant design”.
And she described the latest setback as a “revalidation process”.
“We have a number of issues we’re working through and it’s fair to say some will translate into changes, but not necessarily all of them,” she added.
“The risk is some will require to be further enhanced and that’s because, with quite a lot of the [specifications] we’re working to, there’s not a black and white standard.
“A degree of interpretation is required and if you ask three people, you might get three different answers.”
The board also heard that the Scottish Government has agreed to cover the extra £16m needed for the project, as well as further costs if parts of the hospitals do need to be redesigned.