Cross-party plea for St John’s children’s ward reopening

St John's Hospital in Livingston
St John's Hospital in Livingston
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MSPs from across the political spectrum have joined forces to call for the speedy restoration of 24/7 children’s services at St John’s Hospital in Livingston.

The hospital’s paediatric ward has been closed to in-patients since July 7, forcing youngsters requiring hospital admission to travel to Edinburgh’s Sick Kids. It is the third closure in five years due to staff shortages.

In a debate at Holyrood, Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay said reports on a staffing crisis at the St John’s children’s ward had appeared six years ago. “Then it was about the withdrawal of paediatric trainees from the ward and despite representations we have seen no progress in that regard. The reality is in the six years since these problems were first highlighted, these problems have got a whole lot worse.”

Mr Findlay, who sponsored the debate, said the current closure, which has lasted over 230 days, was longest and most worrying.

“From then [July 7] until January almost 500 children have been sent to other hospitals, with 414 admitted to a ward. Over 3000 children were sent home from the emergency department after midnight and on 47 occasions taxis costing almost £2000 took them home.

“Children sent to Edinburgh from St John’s didn’t have a grazed knee or a sprained ankle - these were children with very serious conditions. These are children for whom every minute in an ambulance, every second stuck in traffic on the bypass could put their lives at risk.”

He said the Royal College of Paediatrics (RCP) had twice confirmed St John’s needed a 24/7 children’s service - “hardly a revelation given it sits in one of the youngest and fastest-growing communities in Scotland” - yet the situation was getting worse rather than better. “Parents don’t want to be fobbed off any longer. We need action to make this vital service sustainable.”

Edinburgh Pentlands SNP MSP Gordon MacDonald backed the call for the 24/7 service to be restored as soon as possible. “Lengthy hospital admissions miles away from home have a well-documented impact on the wellbeing of children and heavy financial and emotional cost to families.”

Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs said trainee doctors should be able to choose to do part of their training at St John’s, with the hospital acting as a “satellite of the Sick Kids for training purposes”.

Edinburgh West Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said the St John’s situation was “a microcosm of problems throughout the NHS - unmet demand, patient inconvenience and inadequate workforce planning”.

Replying, Health Secretary Shona Robison insisted a wide range of children’s services was still available at St John’s.

And she said progress was being made on recruitment. The RCP had said eight consultants were required to resume 24/7 operation and NHS Lothian was now appointing the seventh.