Almost 200 sewage leaks were recorded in hospitals across Scotland in the past five years, with half of the nation’s NHS boards affected by the problem.
The majority of the 196 sewage-related incidents recorded since 2019 all took place at the ageing University Hospital Monklands in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire.
Data released by the local NHS board showed that the building was affected by 105 sewage leaks over that time, mainly due to “ageing pipework” and an often faulty drainage system.
The hospital, which opened in 1977 and is operated by NHS Lanarkshire, has a 24-hour A&E department and 411 inpatient beds.
A £400m modern replacement is due to be built at nearby Wester Moffat, but at the end of the last year the completion date for the project was moved back from 2028 to 2031.
The scale of the sewage leaks affecting the current hospital was revealed in a series of Freedom of Information requests submitted by the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
The party asked all 14 of Scotland’s health boards to detail leaks that “resulted in sewage coming into the hospital”, including through ceilings and walls.
Seven boards said they had recorded incidents: NHS Ayrshire & Arran, NHS Fife, NHS Forth Valley, NHS Grampian, NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, NHS Lanarkshire, and NHS Lothian.
NHS Lanarkshire recorded by far the highest number of sewage leaks, giving a total of 137. As well as the Monklands hospital, five leaks were recorded at University Hospital Wishaw.
NHS Grampian recorded 26 incidents, with nine taking place in Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin and five at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
A further 16 incidents were recorded by NHS Fife, spread between Victoria hospital in Kirkcaldy and Queen Margaret Hospital in Dunfermline.
The health boards serving Scotland’s two largest cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh recorded nine incidents between them.
NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde reported eight leaks, four of which took place on the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus, while NHS Lothian said one leak occurred at the Western General hospital.
Scottish Lib Dem communities spokesman Willie Rennie said: “This will be worrying news for patients across Scotland but particularly those who rely on the Monklands hospital.
“I hope that health boards will be able to offer assurances that these issues have been addressed and will not happen again.
“The Scottish Government seem to be adrift without a plan. They must urgently work with regulators to upgrade Scotland’s Victorian sewage systems and prevent incidents like these.”
Colin Lauder, director of planning, property and performance at NHS Lanarkshire, said the leaks affecting the Monklands hospital were explained partly by the building’s age.
“University Hospital Monklands was designed and built over 40 years ago. This includes the ageing pipework that serves the drainage system which is a mixture of plastic and cast iron pipes, all of which are significantly deteriorated in parts,” he said.
“The drainage system experiences regular failures resulting is leaks associated with toilets, urinals and sluices.
“There is a regular maintenance regime in place to routinely flush the horizontal drains in an attempt to minimise blockages, and work is also underway to establish the feasibility of replacing old cast iron downpipes that run the length of the hospital towers and frequently block.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said that as part of its £1bn infrastructure investment plan, published in 2021, NHS boards would have their maintenance budgets doubled from £142m to £284m by 2025-26.
NHS boards respond
i also approached the other six health boards that reported sewage leaks. Here is how they responded:
A spokeswoman said: “We take the cleanliness and safe running of our hospitals very seriously. These incidents must be seen in context: they represent a small fraction of the facilities and estates issues our teams deal with each year.
“In all cases the leaks were dealt with promptly and the risk to either patients or staff was minimal.”
Paul Bishop, head of estates, said: “NHS Fife staff reported 16 sewage leaks to our estates and facilities team during the four-year period 2019 to 2022.
“The majority of these leaks were considered to be minor with a large proportion of the leaks caused by misuse, with inappropriate items being flushed into the system.
“With a large hospital estate spread over 46 sites, NHS Fife has a comprehensive maintenance schedule, and any sewage leaks are managed quickly and efficiently.”
NHS Ayrshire & Arran
A spokeswoman said: “Processes are in place to allow wards and departments to report issues related to existing drainage as and when they are identified. Each reported incident was resolved quickly as part of a coordinated response without patient care being affected.
“Information has been shared within the organisation to highlight the appropriate disposal of single use items such as paper towels and hand hygiene wipes to ensure the waste water cycle runs smoothly to external drains to help prevent future blockages and avoid potential disruption to services.”
Morag Campbell, director of estates and facilities, said: “Ensuring patient safety across our sites is our top priority, which is why we have strict processes for monitoring our facilities, alongside maintenance regimes to ensure their regular upkeep.
“Like any building however, maintenance issues can arise. Where facilities issues are identified, immediate action is undertaken to get these remedied as quickly as possible.”
NHS Forth Valley
A spokeswoman said it had nothing to add to its FoI response.
NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde