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Spreadsheet error delays opening of £150m children’s hospital


A spreadsheet error led Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman to overrule NHS Lothian plans to open Edinburgh’s new £150m children’s hospital. £16m remedial work and public inquiry are underway.

2nd Sep 2020
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A report has cited a copy and paste error in a 2012 spreadsheet as responsible for preventing the opening of NHS Lothian’s £150m Royal Hospital for Children and Young People (RHCYP) in Edinburgh. 

The RHCYP was the first NHS hospital to be constructed under the Scottish government’s private financing model Non-Profit Distribution (NPD). Private consortium IHSL was responsible for designing, building and funding the project.

The state-of-the-art facility, due to open in July 2019, was postponed due to incorrect ventilation specifications within the “environmental matrix” meaning critical care rooms would not operate at the ten air changes per hour required to control the spread of infections. 

So who was culpable?

The erroneous spreadsheet was dispatched for the perusal of three, separate construction firms bidding for the contract. According to the report, one of the firms identified the error and sent corrections, but the firm didn’t win the contracts and the corrections were not noticed.

According to Edinburgh Evening News, an independent tester had also been appointed by both sides who also failed to identify the error.

Independent checks did not discover the issue until after NHS Lothian has assumed responsibility for the hospital and had begun £1.4m monthly repayments. 

As a result, the hospital’s July 2019 opening was postponed at the last minute with remedial work set to cost around £16m. A public inquiry has now also been organised. No date for the hospital’s full opening has been agreed yet due to coronavirus restrictions, and is under review.

NHS Lothian commissions Grant Thornton audit

The NHS Lothian audit report, carried out by Grant Thornton, ascertained a “human error in copying across the four bedded room generic ventilation criteria into the critical care room detail” into the correct spreadsheet matrix.

“An error existed over critical care ventilation (and the other four bedded rooms within the hospital) within the versions of the matrix developed first by NHS Lothian (2012) which continued into the versions created by Project Co (2014 onwards).”

The report also points out that a separate mistake had occurred in the environmental matrix in September 2014 which required “ensuites within critical care by Project Co in the environmental matrix [which] was not identified until 2016. However, when the ensuite errors were flagged as incorrect, the air change errors were still not identified.

“It is absolutely staggering that this mistake has had such huge repercussions and was not picked up until after the new hospital had been built,” commented Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs. (Edinburgh News)

Eleven missed opportunities

The audit concluded: “Our review identified a collective failure from the parties involved. It is not possible to identify one single event which resulted in the errors as there were several contributing events.” 

The report lists 11 missed opportunities (par 46.) where the error could have been identified.

“This must be up there as one of the most expensive typos in history. This has been a catastrophic episode from start to finish,” said Edinburgh Western Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton. (Edinburgh News)

Grant Thornton’s review includes recommendations for NHS Lothian to strengthen it’s “control environment”. Several of these have already been addressed, according to NHS Lothian chief executive Calum Campbell, and “others will be implemented within the agreed timeframes”.

In addition to the £14m monthly maintenance and facility payments for, the private children’s hospital will cost the Scottish government £432m over the next 25 years.

Replies (14)

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By nekillim
03rd Sep 2020 10:18

Staggering incompetance!

I hope the contractor that identified, and corrected the error, but lost the contract is compensated!

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Replying to nekillim:
By Sky_accounts
03rd Sep 2020 10:36

Agreed - Poor controls from start to finish.

Note the contractor that identified the error and corrected it were only bidding on the work. The contractor that won the work didn't notice the error.

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By bobsto12
03rd Sep 2020 10:31

A tale of the modern world. Lack of care causes massive dumb error.Competent staff in one company spot mistake and are ignored when they try to point it out and of course their bid fails possibly because of this.
The less competent win the work, do what they've got a contract for and then get paid again for remedial work.
What a shambles.

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By meadowsaw227
03rd Sep 2020 10:33

How much did Grant Thornton's "review" cost ! .

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Pile of Stones
By Beach Accountancy
03rd Sep 2020 11:02

Hands up if you think someone will lose their job over this

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By BryanS1958
03rd Sep 2020 11:06

"In addition to the £14m monthly maintenance and facility payments for, the private children’s hospital will cost the Scottish government £432 over the next 25 years."

£432 over 25 years sounds like a bargain!

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Replying to BryanS1958:
By Jeff Allsebrook
21st May 2021 12:51

£432 now corrected but is the £14 million not supposed to be the £1.4 million mentioned earlier in the article? The decimal point might be relevant.

Other articles on the subject claim that the £432 million includes the £1.4 million monthly payment...

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By hfiddes
03rd Sep 2020 11:15

From reading the report I doubt the air change matrix will get much time in the forthcoming inquiry. If LHB and Project Co couldn't get the basics on air change right for the building at the start, couple that with the confusion around what rooms had what purpose and whether they should have ensuites, the poor soul trying to produce the matrix didn't stand much chance anyway...rubbish in.

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03rd Sep 2020 11:41

So, my very reasonable comment regarding your lazy anti spreadsheet headline for this article, gets thanked twice and deleted by you. Perhaps you should try having the grace to apologise for your silly editorial line and change the title.

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03rd Sep 2020 11:46

I dare not criticise the scots, what with their anti-free speech laws in the pipeline.

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By rememberscarborough
03rd Sep 2020 14:11

Just to point out it's not the contractor's responsibility to pick up these errors since if they badly under quoted for another part of the job the client would expect them to honour the erroneous quote or withdraw their tender.

This is purely the client's responsibility and whether they choose to go after their representatives they employed who made the error is their choice.

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Ivor Windybottom
By Ivor Windybottom
03rd Sep 2020 14:34

The use of spreadsheets for project management/specification is clearly the wrong tool for the job.

How big concerns can hold their heads up in public with such basic incompetence is beyond me.

The employees using spreadsheets for the wrong purpose are like the plumbers who put screws in with their hammer!

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Replying to Ivor Windybottom:
03rd Sep 2020 17:20

Sorry but I am going to disagree. Project managers have been using spreadsheets effectively and successfully, long before anything more recent. It is the skill level and experience of the user and how controls are applied that are at issue here.

Awebs editorial line of bashing spreadsheet’s at every opportunity is misplaced to say the least. Automation, cloud, or big data does not replace professional skill or the fundamentals of making sure you understand what you are looking at, irrespective of the tool being used, hammer or not. You only need to ask the Government Minster for Education, who has clearly had the most recent lesson in over reliance on those with algorithms and no common sense

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By paulwakefield1
04th Sep 2020 08:46

Reading the report, it does seem that the spreadsheet was very poorly designed. And the irony is that the correct specification was on the first worksheet.

GT keep referring to copying although I do sometimes wonder if they mean referencing - difficult to be sure without seeing the file itself. If it was actual copying, it is like using a spreadsheet to type in a column of numbers and then adding them up on a calculator and typing in the total.

If only they had read the ICAEW "Twenty Principles for good spreadsheet practice"......

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