HEALTH chiefs are under fire over their decision to close the children’s ward of a hospital for six weeks over the summer as a result of staff shortages.
NHS Lothian has been accused of “complete and utter failure” in not resolving the staffing problems at St John’s Hospital in Livingston.
This is a complete and utter failure of the SNPNeil Findlay, Labour
Campaigners warned parents faced long journeys to reach the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh, which will now take inpatients who would otherwise have been treated at the West Lothian facility.
The paediatric ward has not been properly staffed for three years and senior doctors have said the 14-bed unit is staffed “on a wing and a prayer” with doctors and nurses regularly asked to work extra night shifts and at weekends.
NHS Lothian announced yesterday that inpatients will not be admitted to the ward from tomorrow, although it will still be open during the day, from 8am to 8pm, to deal with appointments and referrals.
There is no change to maternity and neonatal services at the hospital.
Ellen Glass, of the Action to Save St John’s campaign, said the closure was “an absolute disgrace”.
She said: “I couldn’t believe it when I heard. This is not a new problem, it has been going on for some time.
“It’s very difficult for people in West Lothian to get to the Sick Kids. It’s not like the ERI where there is a direct bus.”
And she voiced fears for the long-term future of the ward.
“If they close it for six weeks now, what guarantee is there they don’t come back and say, ‘We managed OK, we can just close it totally’?”. The hospital previously closed for similar reasons for three weeks in the summer of 2012.
Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “This is a complete and utter failure from the SNP government in Edinburgh and NHS Lothian to address staffing problems at St John’s.
“Despite having three years to learn the lessons of 2012, the same problems have reared their heads again, with the long-term future of the ward in doubt.
“A ward shouldn’t have to shut down so that hard-working staff can get the annual leave they are legally entitled to.”
Jim Crombie, NHS Lothian’s chief officer of acute services, said the closure decision had not been taken lightly.
He said: “We are fully committed to maintaining and indeed expanding the role of St John’s Hospital as one of Lothian’s three major acute hospital sites, but if we don’t make changes now to the operating hours of the children’s ward, we run the risk of having to make an unplanned closure at a few hours’ notice, which would lead to the sudden diversion of patients.”
“We have relied on our dedicated staff from St John’s and across Lothian to work additional hours to provide these important services, but we cannot continue to rely indefinitely on a small number of staff working excessive hours.”
Health secretary Shona Robison said the closure was a temporary arrangement.