FRESH questions have been raised over the future of the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital after it emerged the paediatrics service was set to be permanently downgraded.
The development comes just months after health bosses said the department was “stronger than ever” and will put further strain on the already under-pressure Sick Kids in the Capital.
The ward at the Livingston hospital, which also serves patients from parts of west Edinburgh, was controversially shut for three weeks in the summer due to a short-term staffing crisis, with 35 children sent to the Sick Kids instead.
It reopened and it was announced that new staff had been recruited, but it has emerged that NHS Lothian is now facing a severe shortage of trainee doctors in paediatrics.
The future of children’s and maternity services at St John’s is to be discussed at a meeting of the NHS Lothian board next week, with a senior hospital source saying a permanent downgrade in paediatrics was the most likely outcome.
West Lothian Council leader John McGinty said: “West Lothian has the fastest growing younger population in Scotland and it is completely unacceptable to consider any changes to the children’s ward.
“It is completely unbelievable and, quite frankly, a kick in the teeth to people in West Lothian.”
The senior source at St John’s warned that the closure of the children’s ward could spell “disaster” for the hospital.
The source added: “I think the health board has known all along that they are going to have to bite the bullet and downgrade. They will say it’s been forced on them by the reduction in trainees and will implement the downgrade from February.
“They have never had the courage to do it, but within the hospital it’s now expected that it will happen.
“There will be knock-on effects for maternity and casualty services. They want to fix a short-term crisis, but they’ll create a long-term crisis that’s much more significant.”
NHS Lothian said topics for next week’s board meeting had not been finalised, but refused to rule out a permanent downgrade at St John’s.
The health board also declined to respond to comments from SNP MSPs Fiona Hyslop and Angela Constance, who called on NHS Lothian to restate its commitment to a 24/7 service for paediatrics at St John’s.
Following the temporary closure of the ward in July, Dr David Farquharson, NHS Lothian’s medical director, said the department was “stronger than ever”.
But it is predicted that from February, just 34 paediatric trainee doctors will be available to cover hospitals in Lothian, Borders and Fife, well below the 47 required.
MSPS AIR CONCERNS IN HOSPITAL CRISIS
MSPs have added their voices to the growing concerns over the future of the children’s ward at St John’s.
Almond Valley representative Angela Constance, right, and her SNP colleague Fiona Hyslop have written to NHS Lothian chiefs ahead of next week’s talks over the staffing crisis among paediatric doctors.
Ms Constance said: “We have a growing population and parents and those who hope to become parents need to know that should their child fall sick there will be a local, fully trained service available.”
Ms Hyslop, left, who represents Linlithgow. added: “If there are pressures on the availability of trainees elsewhere in the south east of Scotland this should not be allowed to impact on St John’s.”