MSPs call for new specialist eye hospital to be made 'a priority'

Patients share 'frustration' over delays to new facility nearly ten years after the building was deemed not fit for purpose.

A number of MSPs have written a cross-party letter urging the health minister to make building a new specialist eye hospital a priority.

The Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion at Lauriston Place was deemed not fit for purpose in 2014 with a new facility planned at the Royal Edinburgh Infirmary at Little France.

But the building has been subject to continuous delays, with an opening date now estimated for 2027.

Campaigners with visual impairments say they feel they are being forgotten about.

Sylvia Paton was born with a rare eye condition called aniridia, meaning she does not have an iris.

It’s led to a number of other problems including glaucoma and cataracts.

Day to day, she is extremely sensitive to light and has limited vision. She also requires regular visits to the eye hospital to receive specialist treatment.

Sylvia told STV News: “I only have sight in one eye which is very fuzzy and a bit cloudy, like looking through a smoky room or through water.

“Sometimes I see things in silhouette rather than full shape. It depends on the angle the light hits me from.

Sylvia Payton said visually impaired people feel ‘at the bottom of the pecking order’

“Aniridia can’t be treated itself. But the symptoms can be treated in different ways.”

Sylvia set up Keep Edinburgh Eye Pavilion (KEEP) to get a new hospital built as soon as possible.

She said the current building is too small to meet growing demand for services, which has resulted in growing waiting lists.

She also said the lift, which takes patients up to the theatre for vital surgery, regularly breaks down.

Sylvia said: “It’s very frustrating. If someone’s eye surgery is cancelled at short notice because the lift isn’t working and theatres can’t be used, they could stand to lose the vision they’ve got; the further down the line the eye condition is, the harder it is to restore it.

“People are waiting in corridors to be seen by clinicians. There can be long waiting lists for appointments let alone treatment.

“They won’t have the space to expand with new technology and new research, which will lead to further delays.

“I hope the government gives the eye hospital the priority it deserves. We’ve waited a long time.

“Visually impaired people feel at the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to getting resources because [our conditions] are not seen as life-threatening, but it does have serious knock-on effects for a person’s life.”

Approval in principle was agreed for a new eye hospital back in 2018 but the Scottish Government withdrew funding from the project in December 2020, proposing spreading ophthalmic services across the Lothians.

The current eye hospital building was deemed ‘not fit for purpose’ in 2014

The former first minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged to overturn that decision but the opening has been continuously delayed.

A group of MSPS published a letter on December 11 calling for the health minister to publish a timeline for opening the new hospital.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “We are absolutely committed to the replacement Eye Pavilion in Edinburgh. The recently commissioned review of capital projects across the Scottish Government will provide clarity regarding funding and timescales for delivery of the new facility.

“Scotland is the only country in the UK to provide free universal NHS-funded eye examinations, and our investment in community optometry services has helped reduce the burden on GPs and secondary care services.

“We want to further strengthen the role of the community optometrist as the first port of call for all eye problems by supporting Independent Prescribing community optometrists to manage patients with more complex acute anterior eye problems.”

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