An operating theatre at a £27 million Fife hospital has never been used for surgery since it opened ten years ago.
St Andrews Community Hospital, which has 90 staff and 40 beds, opened in September 2009 to replace a smaller facility in the town more than 100 hundred years old.
Its services include an outpatients department, dentistry, minor injuries unit and two GP practices. The hospital also has a day surgery and endoscopy unit with a theatre for minor operations which is never used.
NHS Fife confirmed no operations have taken place at the unit over the past decade, after a freedom of information request. Only endoscopies are carried out, prompting politicians to express concern that the hospital could eventually be closed.
Following a tip-off we asked NHS Fife how many operations had been carried out since 2009.
Initial plans to utilise the small theatre for minor surgery have not developed NHS Fife
NHS Fife said in its reply: “The day surgery and endoscopy unit is used solely for endoscopy at present. Initial plans to utilise the small theatre for minor surgery have not developed primarily due to a change in clinical practice when general surgery changed the criteria for accepting referrals for sebaceous cysts and minor skin lesions.
“Within the out patient department there are weekly minor plastic surgery clinics and weekly dermatology minor surgery clinics. There is also a monthly minor surgery clinic.”
There have been 3600 new gastroenterology patients since 2010, NHS Fife added. But the health board could not say how many of those patients had scopes at the unit or how much the theatre cost.
In reply to further questions, NHS Fife said that patients living in the St Andrews area “should be able” to have minor surgery carried out at local GP practices.
“Any major surgery would be performed at Ninewells or the Victoria. Within the out patient department there are weekly minor plastics surgery clinics and weekly dermatology minor surgery clinics. There is also a monthly minor surgery clinic,” NHS Fife added.
But not all practices perform minor operations and Fife is suffering a GP crisis with patients reporting waits of up to three months for an appointment due to staff shortages. A practice in Anstruther recently advertised a GP vacancy for more than six months.
I am sure many local residents will be astonished and disturbed to learn that in the 10 years since St Andrews Hospital opened it has carried out no minor surgery. Linda Holt, Conservative councillor
Linda Holt, a Conservative councillor for East Neuk and Landward said: “I am sure many local residents will be astonished and disturbed to learn that in the 10 years since St Andrews Hospital opened it has carried out no minor surgery. Whenever a local hospital loses services to centralisation, it always raises a suspicion that it is heading for eventual closure.
“NHS Fife are under extreme pressure to make millions of pounds of savings in their operational budgets. The fact that St Andrews Hospital has never been utilised for the purpose it was built for will do nothing to allay the suspicion that it may be deemed superfluous to needs.”
Mark Ruskell, Scottish Green MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said: “These figures are really worrying and compounds community concerns that the St Andrews Community Hospital is not being used to its full capacity.
“The hospital is only ten years old and was supposed to bring a range of health care facilities together for people in North East Fife, but we’ve already seen GP out of hours provision suspended and now the news that surgeries have not been taking place either is extremely worrying.”
Callum MacLeod, chairman of The Royal Burgh of St Andrews Community Council, said: “We are aware of this situation and will be looking into it further in due course. We would generally hope and expect that all public services would be operated with maximum efficiency within prevailing constraints.”
The Ferret’s source said the facility was not being used to its full potential, adding: “It’s a white elephant and a waste of taxpayers’ money at the outset. Its endoscopy service is under-used as well.”
Brian Thomson, a Labour councillor for St Andrews, said: “The space has not been used due to a change in clinical practice and has not been equipped, so the additional cost to the taxpayer – around ten years ago – is likely to be fairly insignificant.
“The hospital was built before the then Conservative/Lib Dem Government austerity measures were implemented, when public services were better funded, and a benefit is that the hospital was built with additional capacity, which can be utilised should a need arise.
“Frankly, the impacts of the aforementioned austerity measures over the last nine years have resulted in far more serious issues for the NHS than some space not being used at St Andrews Community Hospital.”
This story was published by the Sunday Mail on 6th October 2019.