A beleaguered hospital is to turn away sick children tomorrow because chronic staff shortages have left it without enough doctors to cover overnight and weekend shifts.
The short stay assessment unit at St John’s Hospital in Livingston will not open as planned, with NHS Lothian stating that patient safety was its highest priority.
Instead, children requiring hospital admission will be transferred to Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children, some 20 miles away.
It is not the first time St John’s has been forced into a partial shutdown due to serious staff shortages. Earlier this summer, its inpatient children’s ward was closed for the fourth time in five years because of long-term sickness absence and problems recruiting paediatricians. Last year, a study by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health recommended the ward be retained after previous temporary closures for the same reason.
Only last month, meanwhile, health secretary Shona Robison ordered an independent review into how waiting times are recorded at the hospital after concerns about its A&E department were raised by a whistleblower.
In a statement concerning the latest shutdown, NHS Lothian said children will continue to be assessed in the hospital’s A&E department, with a paediatric consultant available on call. It said that “normal service” will resume on Monday.
However, the closure has been roundly criticised by opposition parties.
Miles Briggs MSP, shadow health secretary for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “SNP ministers need to understand the level of anger and frustration among West Lothian families and residents at this latest closure and the ongoing issues at St John’s and want answers. I will continue to press the Scottish Government on this matter.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokesman, Anas Sarwar, said: “This closure is deeply troubling and will be a great concern to parents across the Lothians. The SNP has left our NHS staff over-worked, under-valued and under-resourced.”
Jacquie Campbell, chief officer of acute services at NHS Lothian, said: “The safety of our patients must be our top priority and for that reason the unit will not open on Sunday.
“Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to reliably secure the levels of staffing required on Sunday to guarantee a safe service. This is the safest option for the children of West Lothian and normal service will resume on Monday.”