Scotland’s child health staffing crisis is utterly unacceptable – leader comment

In 2012, when the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital in Livingston stopped admitting patients for three weeks because of staff shortages, the then Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon was apparently satisfied that the closure would be a temporary one.

The number of consultant paediatricians in Scotland needs to rise by 25 per cent, say experts
The number of consultant paediatricians in Scotland needs to rise by 25 per cent, say experts

However, it shut again in 2015 and 2017 brought a longer-term closure to inpatients that had, as of January, forced more than 1,000 children needing overnight care to go to Edinburgh instead. Earlier this year, the current Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced “improved medical and nursing staff numbers” meant that round-the-clock care would be available – for four days a week – from this month, but that a full 24/7 service would not resume until October.

Given problems dating back years, the conclusion of a new report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) will come as no surprise to the Scottish Government: Scotland needs to recruit more paediatric consultants – a lot more. Amid a “recruitment crisis”, the college warned numbers would have to increase by 25 per cent. Using language that could have been less diplomatic, Professor Steve Turner spelt out why – “failing to take the necessary steps now will be to the detriment of our children both today and in the future” and would result in more closures.

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Opposition politicians were not so polite, with the Conservatives saying the “truly shocking” figures showed a “terrifying lack of paediatric doctors” and Labour condemning the “total sense of complacency from the Government”.

And now is precisely the wrong time to be complacent. One of the many negative effects of Brexit is likely to be that the NHS will find it harder to recruit the staff it needs, as EU citizens have helped boost numbers in recent years. This is far from the Scottish Government’s fault, but must be factored into their planning.

It is unacceptable that, seven years after problems first emerged, the Government still does not have enough staff to keep all of its main paediatric units open full time

Last week The Scotsman noted its concern over ambulance funding with crews responding to just 61.5 per cent of life-threatening calls within the eight-minute target time. This week, it’s over the care of sick children. The Scottish Government may say that it knows where its priorities lie, such as the health service, but the problems that won’t go away suggest otherwise.