Health bosses have been accused of omitting key facts from an NHS newsletter which they claim is “the only place” the public can get reliable information about a major hospital.
The Lothians health board said its new weekly publication, Inside St John’s, has been produced in response to “speculation and fear raising” around the issue of the hospital’s future and would keep the public up to date on events at the Livingston facility.
But hospital campaigners and MSPs dubbed the document “propaganda” and said it was at odds with information that had been produced in NHS Lothian’s own board papers just days before.
In the official newsletter it is stated that there will be no change for patients attending A&E and it is emphasised that emergency department consultants will remain on call on overnight and at weekends, as they are now.
But there is no mention that the new staffing model, to be introduced from August 7, will see senior trainees withdrawn overnight and replaced with clinical fellows with less experience. A senior health board source said: “This will lead to a poorer service, even if it isn’t being advertised as such. The senior A&E trainees are being replaced by inexperienced non-specialist doctors at night.
“There is a feeling that if A&E is not going to be staffed properly, they should shut it properly overnight.”
The newsletter also says there will be no change to the hospital’s diversion policy, which sees patients with some serious conditions sent to the Royal Infirmary.
While NHS Lothian said its diversion policy will not change next month, the newsletter does not reveal it is to be reviewed in early September, or mention that advice to ambulance crews is to be reissued as emergency patients with conditions including dislocated shoulders will not be treated out-of-hours at St John’s.
MSP and Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “I don’t think patients in West Lothian will be fooled by this propaganda.”
Gordon Beurskens, of the Action to Save St John’s Hospital group, said: “To read this, you would think there were no problems at the hospital whatsoever. But NHS Lothian’s own board papers, published only days before this propaganda sheet, speak for themselves.”
Dr David Farquharson, NHS Lothian’s medical director, said the newsletter had been developed to “reassure the people of West Lothian that services at the hospital will be maintained and developed”.
He added: “We have been clear about our commitment to providing 24/7 services at St John’s Hospital and have made a significant investment of both time and money in recruitment and looking at different ways of working to ensure that a safe emergency department service can be maintained in the long term.
“We have agreed a solution that will see an increased number of junior doctors working in the emergency department overnight and we will ensure that they have the appropriate support.”
WHAT IT DOESN’T SAY
• There are not enough senior trainees to staff wards overnight and from August 7 and they are to be replaced by less experienced workers.
• The diversion policy is set to be reviewed in early September and health chiefs have acknowledged that more people may have to be sent to the Royal Infirmary.
• The staffing situation in paediatrics remains fragile and reliant on expensive locums. A recent report by an influential team suggested that the children’s ward could become a short-stay unit.
WHAT IT DOES SAY
• “As now, an emergency department consultant will be on-call overnight and at weekends. There will be no change for patients attending A&E during the day, night or at the weekend.”
• “An effective diversion protocol has been in place with the Scottish Ambulance Service since 2004, which has already seen the most seriously ill patients taken directly to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and there will be no change to this.”
• “Recruitment efforts to boost children’s services at the hospital have proved successful, ensuring a continuation of the service for the foreseeable future.”