Published: 26/09/2002, Volume II2, No. 5824 Page 7

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary's private finance initiative has created 'shambolic' arrangements in services like transport and parking, and a poor working environment, the former wife of leader of the House of Commons Robin Cook has claimed.

Dr Margaret Cook, who recently retired from her post as consultant haemotologist at nearby West Lothian Healthcare trust, made her criticisms at a Unison conference last week.

Dr Cook said she had talked about the outcome of the PFI to a wide range of staff at Lothian University Hospitals trust, which runs the infirmary. 'Some were too terrified to talk to me. They said they are under heavy-handed pressure to make this thing work.'

But the trust has issued a robust defence, pointing out that Dr Cook's investigations had been carried out without any contact with the trust, Lothian board or local unions.

It said: 'Statements she apparently made are unsupported allegations that have never been raised by staff with management.'

Dr Cook alleged that parking and transport arrangements were a 'a complete shambles', with a shortage of permits, 'so-called telephone freedom cards are costing£5 - and£1 a minute' and cuts in obstetric beds from 80 to 62 had created a situation where 'discharge (is) encouraged a few hours after delivery'. She added: 'Is this truly evidence-based or even being monitored?'

She told the conference she had learned of difficulties with the hospital's new laboratories, including 'benching systems that are all wrong for the equipment' and some laboratories 'without any external source of daylight or air conditioning'.

Dr Cook told HSJ: 'Inevitably the health service does have to have dealings with the commercial world, but whenever it does the commercial world makes a killing.'

In response to the claims, the trust issued a statement which said that staff parking was always at a premium and that obstetric bed numbers were reduced in number to reflect the falling birth rate in Scotland and were backed by extra investment in community facilities. It said outgoing telephone calls were cheaper than the British Telecom rate, with only incoming calls at premium rate, and that the majority of clinical space had external lighting and windows.