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Islington Tribune - by TOM FOOT
Published: 2 October 2009

Builders return to centre press baron backed with £2.5m gift

THE world’s largest eye hospital faces massive upheaval because of leaking pipes, just two years after its opening by the Queen.
Services at the Richard Desmond Children’s Eye Centre, in Peerless Street, Finsbury, will be evacuated floor by floor while repairs are carried out. It will take a year to sort out, with workers from contractor Balfour Beatty forced to come back on site.
Part of Moorfields Eye Hospital, the £15million specialist centre for children was built with the help of a £2.5million donation from Mr Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers.
Tony Willoughby, director of the Friends of Moorfields patient charity, said: “We were disappointed about the leaks – but we put them down to teething problems with the new building.
“After a while, we realised it was a much bigger problem than that. It is particularly bad on the fifth floor, where we have tremendous accommodation for families of children having eye surgery. It wasn’t good enough to have them staying in rooms with water leaking down the walls. Something had to be done.”
He added: “It has taken a long time to sort out liability. But now all the costs are being met by Balfour Beatty.”
The fifth-floor patient hostel, paid for by burger chain McDonald’s, will be moved into another building until September 2010, freeing up space for the services forced to move while builders get to work.
A hospital spokeswoman said the pipework was being replaced to prevent problems in future, following a fault with its initial installation.
She added: “This is a substantial undertaking which has required extensive and careful planning to ensure disruptions to the service are kept to an absolute minimum. Moorfields’ paediatrics staff have been fully involved in drawing up plans to ensure all children continue to be well cared for and protected at all times.”
Mr Desmond made the £2.5million donation from his estimated £950million personal fortune after he was treated at Moorfields in 2004 for acute angular glaucoma. His mother was also cared for at the hospital 30 years ago after suffering a detached retina.
His media empire includes OK! magazine and television production company Portland TV, which broadcasts adult entertainment channels Fantasy Channel and Red Hot TV.
At the time of the £2.5million gift, Ian Balmer, chief executive of Moorfields, said: “Richard Desmond’s very generous donation means we have now covered the cost of the building work. We are very grateful to him, and to all our donors.”
The centre – designed by architects Penoyre and Prasad LLP to incorporate translucent light pods and zig-zag walls – was named “health building of the year” in the prestigious World Architecture Awards in 2008.
It was opened in February 2007 under a Private Finance Initiative scheme, with costs met by Balfour Beatty and the hospital. The centre treats 20,000 paediatric patients a year. A spokesman for the contractors said pipework was being replaced following the discovery of corrosion, which occurred after installation.
“The programme of remedial works has been agreed with the paediatric staff to ensure disruption to patients and staff is kept to a minimum,” he added. “We apologise for any inconvenience caused during these essential works.”
Mr Richard Desmond said: "While it is disappointing that the Richard Desmond Children's Eye Centre will be partially closed for the repairs to the pipework, I am pleased that it should mean that the building will be in excellent shape for many years to come once it re-opens. It is an amazing hospital in which I am very very proud of, along with the world class facilities it offers so many."

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