Calls for Holyrood to save St John’s kids ward

The children's ward at St John's is under pressure. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The children's ward at St John's is under pressure. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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FURIOUS councillors have called for the Health Secretary to step in to save a “vital” children’s ward from the threat of closure.

NHS Lothian bosses admitted earlier this week that the paediatric unit at St John’s Hospital was staffed “on a wing and prayer” due to a shortage of out-of-hours medics.

The 14-bed ward, which provides care for children under 13 from the west of Edinburgh and West Lothian, was closed to admissions for three weeks in July 2012 due to a severe shortage of trainee doctors.

Allegations have also been raised about the hospital’s psychiatric service, which failed to offer help to a mother before she killed her daughter.

Concerns over NHS Lothian’s perinatal service at St John’s Hospital were made in a letter to Health Secetary Shona Robison by Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay.

They emerged days after a court heard that the family doctor of Erin Sutherland had tried to organise psychiatric services before she murdered baby daughter Chloe on February 3.

But the doctor was told she was ineligible because Chloe was more than six months old.Mr Findlay’s letter contains claims that non-specialist managers and clinicians interfere with decisions outside their competency and that communications are chaotic.

West Lothian Council leader John McGinty said the news was “deeply concerning” and called on Ms Robison to intervene. Councillor McGinty said: “Downgrading any service at St John’s, for any period of time, is completely unacceptable.

“The council has made its position clear over recent years where families in West Lothian have had to deal with the consequences of the children’s ward closing during the school summer holiday.

“It is deeply concerning that this is an issue that does not seem to go away.”

The hospital should have “enhanced” paediatric services as the area has Scotland’s fastest growing younger populataion, warned Anne McMillan, West Lothian Council’s executive councillor for health and care.

She said: “It’s no good calling for a 24/7 service at St John’s if that means that the service provided is reduced and downgraded.

“West Lothian Council values the commitment and hard work of the paediatric service at our local hospital and we call upon the Scottish Government to intervene and prevent NHS Lothian downgrading services.”

NHS Lothian remains committed to expanding the role of St John’s but severe staffing shortages have forced them to reassess the options available for the unit, said Jim Crombie, chief officer of Acute Services.

Mr Crombie said: “The safety of children has to be our top priority and all our services must be appropriately staffed.

“We are currently working with the dedicated staff who provide these important services to assess the realistic options available to us for this unit.”

He said there have been “significant challenges” in sustaining the service, which is expected to become more difficult over the summer as staff take holiday.

Mr Crombie said: “Despite national and international recruitment campaigns, we are unable to fill the key medical and specialist nursing posts required to help provide a safe, reliable and sustainable financial and workforce model.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said it was working closely with the health board to find a short-term solution and long-term sustainability for the service.”

Jim Forrest, director of West Lothian Community Health and Care Partnership, said the allegations regarding the perinatal unit were similar to those raised and investigated several years ago, which resulted in a clean bill of health.