The revelation that a £150m critical care building in Belfast remains largely closed to the public five years after it was due to open has been met with shock and outrage by politicians.
The state-of-the-art facility at the Royal Victoria Hospital was due to open its doors in 2012.
But the BBC has reported that 10 of the 12 floors of the high-rise building are still awaiting patients and staff.
Despite the huge investment in the facility, it is understood that millions of pounds are needed to make the building fit for purpose.
The facility was hailed as a “beacon” for the local construction industry, but it has been plagued with delays.
According to the BBC, a raft of construction problems have held up completion of the building, including plumbing, waste and electrical systems.
East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs said the Belfast Health Trust, which has responsibility for the building, has “serious questions to answer”.
The UUP health spokesman told the News Letter: “Shortly after the Ulster Unionist Party took the health portfolio in 2007, our minister Michael McGimpsey signed off on funding for the new critical care unit to be located at the Royal.
“We recognised Northern Ireland needed such a new facility in order to provide the best care possible for patients, especially those in real emergencies.
“It is a total and absolute disgrace therefore that 10 years later most of the building remains empty.”
Mr Beggs said the public deserved an explanation for the ongoing delay.
And he described it as “inexcusable” that some of the equipment bought for the unit has passed its usable lifespan and now must be disposed of, despite never being used.
It is understood this includes oxygen hoses used in theatres as they have a limited shelf life.
DUP health spokesperson Jim Shannon said he was “absolutely flabbergasted” by the situation and called for the matter to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
The Strangford MP said: “I am shocked to learn that this so-called state-of-the-art building has sat in this condition for five years.
“This needs to be a priority when it comes to setting a budget. Critical care is at the core of our health service in Northern Ireland and we need to ensure this facility is shipshape and ready to serve the people of Northern Ireland as quickly as possible.”
Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said this was “another example of the extreme pressures facing the health service”.
The South Belfast MLA added: “Simply put, the system is broken and those intent on dragging their heels in forming an Executive should recognise the damage incurred in our health service for every day we don’t have devolution restored.”
A spokesperson for the Belfast Health Trust told the News Letter it is currently engaged in a programme to clinically commission the critical care building, including the recruitment and training of nursing and medical staff, the orientation and induction of over 600 staff and equipping the building for use.
The spokesperson added: “This programme runs in tandem with the works being completed within the building.”
The trust added that the new deadline for the opening of theatres and the intensive care unit is autumn/winter 2017.
The emergency department, which is housed on the lower two floors of the building, had to open in 2015 in order to cope with winter pressures.
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