NHS chiefs face anger at downgrade of A&E

Out-of-hours services in A&E at St John's Hospital could be scaled back. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Out-of-hours services in A&E at St John's Hospital could be scaled back. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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LOTHIAN health bosses are facing a growing backlash over the potential downgrade of accident and emergency services in the region.

The Evening News revealed at the weekend that a staffing crisis had meant out-of-hours services in A&E at St John’s Hospital could be scaled back, with some patients with more serious conditions instead being sent to the under-strain Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for tests and treatment.

A petition against the “continued downgrading” at the Livingston hospital has attracted more than 950 signatures in days, while West Lothian Council has also added its voice to the discontent.

John McGinty, the leader of West Lothian Council, said any reduction in services at the hospital was “completely unacceptable” and the authority was considering what action to take.

Mr McGinty said: “West Lothian has the fastest growing younger and older populations in Scotland.

“Both of these groups will be severely affected by any changes to the accident and emergency service at St John’s. It will be of little solace to families in West Lothian who have to call for emergency help during the night to know that NHS Lothian is saying that the service will continue to be provided but that people may not get it where they want it.”

The health board has said patients in West Lothian with conditions including heart attacks and major broken bones are already diverted to the ERI, but the list may need to be increased.

The St John’s department will remain open 24-7, with reductions in service likely to take place between 11pm and 7am, when on average two patients an hour visit the unit.

The petition against the downgrade, which calls on Health Secretary Alex Neil to intervene, states that “lives will be put at risk” by sending more patients to struggling Edinburgh hospitals.

At the ERI, a unprecedented number of people have waited beyond a four-hour target to be admitted, discharged or transferred in the emergency department in recent months.

David Farquharson, the health board’s medical director, said: “The chief executive [Tim Davison] has made it very clear that St John’s is one of our stakes in the ground. We depend on that hospital for the provision of care within Lothian.

“St John’s has a number of services we don’t have anywhere else. There’s no question of in any way downgrading St John’s, it’s an integral part of our delivery of healthcare.

“It is not in our interests to ship large numbers of patients from emergency department to emergency department.

“It is in our best interests to ensure if at all possible we keep to the same diversion policy that has worked up until now.”