THE under-threat children’s ward at St John’s Hospital has been handed a £600,000 lifeline by the Scottish Government.
The Evening News revealed this week that the facility was facing a permanent downgrade to an assessment centre due to a severe shortage of trainee paediatric doctors across the south-east of Scotland.
But First Minister Alex Salmond announced yesterday at First Minister’s Questions that the Government would give NHS Lothian £100,000 by April and another £500,000 over the two subsequent financial years to hire four fixed-term clinical fellows.
And he added that a national and international recruitment campaign for permanent trained staff would also take place to ensure the services were maintained at St John’s.
Responding to the question from Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson, who has worked at St John’s as a consultant psychiatrist, Mr Salmond said: “I hope the member will recognise the importance of that announcement.”
It also emerged that Health Secretary Alex Neil met with NHS Lothian chief executive Tim Davison earlier this week to discuss the staffing crisis, which from February will see just 34 senior trainee paediatric doctors cover out-of-hours services across Lothian, the Borders and Fife – 13 fewer than are needed.
Mr Salmond added: “A serious recruitment issue has occurred because staff are on maternity leave and for other matters. The secretary has met the health board, which has suggested the action which I’ve outlined.”
The Government said the clinical fellows will be academic staff coming to Edinburgh to gain additional senior clinical experience, and will provide a degree of resilience and flexibility in the short term by providing additional trained doctor capacity in the unit.
But Dr Simpson questioned whether the statement would amount to “yet another broken promise” following the temporary downgrade of the children’s ward for three weeks in the summer, which saw 35 children transferred to the Sick Kids in Edinburgh rather than being admitted in Livingston.
He said: “Is this yet another broken promise? Is this another case of the public being misled where the First Minister says what he likes in the chamber regardless of what actually is happening in the real world of the NHS?”
Gordon Beurskens, of the Action to Save St John’s Hospital group, said he was pleased the future of the children’s ward was looking brighter, but said it was disappointing that the Government had been forced to step in at the last minute.
He said: “We welcome any news that supports the continuation of the 24-7 children’s ward service. But we need better than simply running to the Government every time there’s a problem. They seem to be lurching from one crisis to another – that’s no way to run a health service and it’s no way to run a hospital.”