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THE trouble- torn Edinburgh Royal Infirmary Trust has been rocked by a fresh blow.

For a beds crisis has forced the cancellation of 21 major operations at the Princess Margaret Rose Orthopaedic Hospital.

Two weeks ago, the Sunday Mail disclosed that it was one of three hospitals handed over as "sweeteners" to a private consortium, in return for building a new pounds 180 million hospital.

We told how the NHS would pay Consort Healthcare pounds 30 million annually for 30 years to lease the new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, which will never be owned by the taxpayer.

And last week we revealed that to help finance the deal there would be FEWER beds, FEWER doctors and FEWER nurses in the "showpiece" hospital.

The latest bed crisis was sparked off because the Royal Infirmary couldn't cope and had to transfer 50 patients to the orthopaedic hospital, which then had to cancel scheduled operations.

Earlier this month, Royal Infirmary patients were left lying for up to eight hours on trolleys waiting for attention in scenes reminiscent of "a war zone", according to Dr Brian Potter, Scottish Secretary of the British Medical Association.

We can now reveal that hundreds of low-paid NHS workers stood to lose out when their pensions were transferred from the NHS plan to a scheme run by BICC, parent group of Balfour Beattie, one of the partners in the private consortium.

Workers - including domestic, catering, porters, security and stores staff - faced the loss of their right to 10 YEARS enhancement of their pensions...

Until the Sunday Mail stepped in.

The change in their pension scheme was to apply if they were over 50 and made redundant by their new employers. No mention was made in the original proposals presented to staff.

But after we put pressure on industrial giant BICC Group Pension Trust, they changed their minds and agreed to include enhancement payments.

Last night, Tom Waterson, Unison health union branch secretary at the Infirmary greeted the news with relief.

He said: "We'll have to see confirmation of this. But we salute the Sunday Mail for taking up the issue and making BICC change their minds."

And porter Eddie Ritchie, 51, who has worked at the Infirmary for 24 years, said the pensions penalty would have been "a real kick in the teeth".

He said: "The trust should have taken steps to protect their own workers before they entered into the deal.

"But they were more interested in making sure that big business will waltz off with tens of millions of pounds."

Alan Penman, director of personnel at the Infirmary, confirmed that enhancement payments had not been mentioned in the original scheme.

He added: "It was not in the contract but Consort have now changed their minds."
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Author:Nairn, John
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 24, 1999
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