Health chiefs deny claims of threat to child services

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health chiefs have declared that they have an “absolute commitment” to maintaining children’s services at St John’s Hospital in Livingston.

Dr David Farquharson, medical director of NHS Lothian used a briefing note for MSPs to hit back at what he called “a degree of ill-informed comment and scaremongering” regarding the future of paediatric services at the hospital.

Fears were raised when six paediatric consultants wrote to Dr Farquharson to warn that staff shortages meant they could no longer guarantee “safe and continuous care” round the clock following the withdrawal of trainees.

Dr Farquharson, however, said the staffing problem was a short-term difficulty, not a sign of long-term decline in services.

He wrote: “We will do everything possible to ensure that paediatric services are maintained and even enhanced to what is in place just now while we address this short-term problem.

“This is not about money or penny pinching as our commitment to recruitment shows, but about losing trainees over whom we have no jurisdiction.

“Anything that suggests there is a deliberate ploy to run down the services at St John’s Hospital is just plain wrong.”

As of April 11, the hospital will no longer receive paediatric trainees, and a nationwide shortage of experienced paediatricians has meant attempts to recruit eight consultants have so far failed.

Dr Farquharson said a “relentless campaign” was continuing to recruit staff, and added that the decision to withdraw paediatric trainees was out of the health board’s hands.

Campaigners for the hospital said their concerns remained, however.

Councillor Gordon Beurskens, of Action to Save St John’s Hospital, said: “I welcome the reassurance and commitment given to maintaining children’s services at St John’s Hospital. However, it is completely insincere to suggest there is no threat in the medium to longer term.

“When consultants say they ‘cannot guarantee continuity of safe clinical care’ that signifies to me there is a problem. Budgets may well be in place to fund new positions, but funding is not the issue. Finding the staff is.

“The withdrawal of trainees has added to concerns. This may not negatively impact on the service. But it was done in consultation with the Scottish Government while yet again councillors on the stakeholders group were kept in the dark.”

sgyford@edinburghnews.com