PLANS to delay publishing a report which could herald the closure of a children’s ward have been branded “an absolute scandal” by campaigners.
The Evening News revealed last month that experts from the Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health would conduct a review into paediatric services across Lothian, sparking fears that this would result in a permanent downgrade of the children’s unit at St John’s Hospital.
It has now emerged that the report will not be published until after the Holyrood elections in May and a private board meeting planned for May 4 has been postponed until May 11.
NHS Lothian said it is forced to adhere to pre-election rules which forbid the publication of “politically contentious” material after March 23 – a week before the report is due to be finished.
Lothian Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: “Local parents and staff at St John’s are being left in limbo.
“We know that staffing shortages have been a problem at the paediatric department, and we should be putting our energies into resolving that situation.”
Health chiefs have struggled to staff the 14-bed ward, which was closed to admissions for six weeks over the summer due to chronic staff shortages. It was also closed for three weeks in July 2012.
Campaigners claimed the review was a way for the Scottish Government and NHS Lothian to centralise services at the state-of-the-art children’s hospital under construction at Little France.
Ellen Glass, a spokeswoman for the Action to Save St John’s Hospital campaign, said: “It’s an absolute scandal. It’s not right for them to make such an important decision in this way.
“All the new MSPs won’t know the situation and they will just push it through. I think it is shocking for people in West Lothian.”
Dr David Farquharson, medical director at NHS Lothian, said: “We cannot pre-empt what the report will say. However, we recognise the potentially politically contentious nature of this issue.”
Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “The Scottish Government has no involvement in the timing of the independent review being carried out by NHS Lothian.
“We support whatever steps need to be taken to ensure a full and thorough review.”