HEALTH chiefs are under attack over their decision to close the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital in Livingston for six weeks over the summer as a result of staff shortages.
NHS Lothian was accused of “complete and utter failure” in not resolving staffing problems.
And campaigners warned parents faced long journeys to reach the Sick Kids Hospital, which will now take inpatients who would otherwise have been treated in West Lothian.
The Evening News revealed last week that the paediatric ward at St John’s was at risk of closure because it had not been properly staffed for three years.
Senior doctors said the 14-bed unit was staffed “on a wing and a prayer” and was “incredibly vulnerable”, with medics regularly asked to work extra shifts at nights and weekends.
NHS Lothian announced yesterday that inpatients will not be admitted to the ward from tomorrow, though it will still be open during the day, from 8am-8pm, to deal with appointments and referrals.
There is no change to maternity and neonatal services. Ellen Glass, of the Action to Save St John’s campaign, called the closure “a disgrace”. She said: “I couldn’t believe it when I heard. This is not a new problem, it has been going on for some time. It’s very difficult for people in West Lothian to get to the Sick Kids. It’s not like ERI where there is a direct bus.”
And she voiced fears for the longterm future of the ward. “If they close it for six weeks now, what guarantee is there they don’t come back and say ‘We managed ok, we can just close it totally’?”
The hospital closed for similar reasons for three weeks in the summer of 2012.
Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “Despite having three years to learn the lessons of 2012 the same problems have reared their heads again, with the longterm future of the ward in doubt.
“A ward shouldn’t have to shut down so that hardworking staff can get the annual leave they are legally entitled to.”
Jim Crombie, NHS Lothian’s chief officer of acute services, said the closure decision had not been taken lightly. He said: “We are fully committed to maintaining, and indeed, expanding the role of St John’s Hospital as one of Lothian’s three major acute hospital sites, but if we don’t make changes now to the operating hours of the children’s ward, we run the risk of having to make an unplanned closure at a few hours’ notice, which would lead to the sudden diversion of patients.”
Health Secretary Shona Robison said the closure was a temporary arrangement but there were “record numbers” of staff working in the NHS.
She said: “NHS Lothian have been absolutely clear that the recruitment issues they are facing have absolutely no relation to funding.”