Northern Ireland

Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast: Opening of £150m critical care building delayed again

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Media captionIt was hoped the building would be handed over to the Belfast Health Trust in March 2015, as Marie-Louise Connolly reports

The BBC understands that the opening of Northern Ireland's new £150m critical care building has been delayed for a third time.

The issue is understood to be due to an ongoing problem with the pipework which was first detected in 2012.

It was hoped the building would be handed over to the Belfast Health Trust in March 2015.

That date has been pushed back to the end of April.

The building is now almost three years behind schedule.

Sources have also told the BBC that in order to make the building at the Royal Victoria Hospital fit for purpose, they understand that an additional £5m to £7m is required.

That includes addressing ventilation problems within the theatres.

However, in a statement a spokesperson for the Belfast Health Trust said that "the project will be delivered within the original business case approved sum".

The state-of-the-art building based in the grounds of the Royal Victoria Hospital had been billed as a beacon for the local construction industry.

However, a source has told the BBC that instead of a "trophy", the critical care building is becoming more like a "huge white elephant".

The Royal College of Nursing said questions must be answered about who will pay for the additional costs.

Garrett Martin said it was "very important that this building opens as soon as possible".

"Staff view this latest development with scepticism," he said.

"It has been plagued with delays. This is something that staff have been looking forward to and the environment is important for delivering safe critical care. We view it as crucial that the environment is fit for purpose.

Image caption Garrett Martin of the Royal College of Nursing has said there are questions that need answered

"I think there are questions that need answered - there is an issue about cost here as well and who is actually paying for these delays."

The emergency department will be the first to admit patients to ensure facilities are up and running properly before next winter.


A spokesperson for the Belfast Health Trust told the BBC that the building will be made operational on a phased basis from July 2015.

A statement also acknowledged that it intends to carry out some additional works to address changes in standards and guidance and some operation changes since the contract was awarded in 2008.

But a source has told the BBC that building professionals are deeply concerned that problems are not being properly addressed.

The person claims that serious issues are not being addressed and if not fixed will be problematic in the future.

According to sources, while no corrosion has been formally identified at this stage, the bacteria which triggered the problem back in 2012 has been found. That resulted in all of the pipes being replaced throughout the building which caused a massive delay and an extra cost totalling millions.

The bacteria has been diagnosed as microbial corrosion and oxygen induced corrosion.

The BBC understands that relations between all those involved, including the Department of Health have become acrimonious. However, the department denied suggestions that it or the Belfast Health Trust has instigated legal action against the main contractor McLaughlin & Harvey.

Documents seen by the BBC reveal that as recently as 5 March this year the bacteria could still be found within the pipework. There were also concerns about how water was being flushed through the system (anti-stagnation cycle programme).

Communication from the engineers, the WYG group, to the contractors McLaughlin & Harvey highlight concerns about standards not being met.

".. We believe that it would be remiss of both the design team and construction team to discount the latest information guidance available, when considering that we are all working towards providing a fully serviced building in accordance with recognised construction standards," the communication said.


Earlier this year, experts again found that the water was unable to flow properly around a massive network of pipes, raising fears that it could result in water becoming stagnant. When that happens water treatment chemicals are unable to degrade resulting in increased bacterial action and loss of water quality.

A series of emails between the contractor McLaughlin & Harvey, engineers the WYG group and the Department of Health reveal complications dating back to October 2012.

They include problems with the heating and water systems. There are suggestions that the heating should be left on for several hours in the summer and turned off in the winter as a way to counteract the problems in the pipes.

The documents also reveal that no-one is accepting responsibility for outstanding issues.

There are also numerous reminders from the engineers to the contractor claiming that responses have not been sent or deadlines met.

Correspondence dated 15 January 2014 from the engineers to the contractors highlights their frustration about the alleged lack and speed of communication.

"Firstly, we wish to record that we are extremely disappointed that this follow up communication is submitted almost three months after the original requested response of two days," the correspondence said.

In a statement, the Belfast Health Trust said the cost of the repair work rests with the contractor. The BBC asked McLaughlin & Harvey to comment but no-one replied.

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