The children’s ward at St John’s Hospital is to close at weekends and will stop taking patients for three weeks, NHS Lothian have said.
The “difficult” decision was taken to “ensure patient safety”, health chiefs revealed.
It comes after trainees’ services were withdrawn in April, despite warnings from doctors that the hospital would struggle to cope.
For three weeks from Monday, July 9 , patients will no longer be admitted to the children’s ward, which will instead operate as an assessment and programmed investigation unit from Monday to Friday between the hours of 8am and 8pm. It will be closed at weekends.
There will be no change to maternity and neonatal services at the hospital.
NHS Lothian said it was working closely with the Scottish Ambulance Service, NHS 24, local GPs and neighbouring health boards to ensure the provision of a safe and reliable service during the three week period.
The arrangements for transferring children to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh, if they need to be admitted to hospital following assessment, or if they become ill between 8pm and 8am, are currently being finalised.
The health board said the decision had been taken due to staffing and recruitment issues, arising from a decision by the Dean of Postgraduate Medicine, NHS Education for Scotland (SE Region) to remove trainee paediatric doctors from St John’s hospital in April.
The move, combined with problems in recruiting consultants, led six paediatricians at the hospital warning that they could no longer guarantee “safe and continuous care” around the clock.
The Action to Save St John’s campaign claimed the shortages showed the children’s ward was being deliberately run down - something which has always been denied by NHS Lothian.
Dr David Farquharson, Medical Director, NHS Lothian, said: “The provision of a safe service for children, mothers and babies, is our top priority and we will not compromise that safety in any way. This is a temporary measure and the decision has not been taken lightly.
“Since the trainees were withdrawn in April we have relied heavily on the goodwill of those working in children’s services and on the ability to secure locum doctors at short notice.
“We have exhausted all options in trying to arrange the same level of cover in July but as this is the peak holiday season, we have been unable to reassure ourselves that we would be able to provide a safe and effective service for the children’s ward and maternity services at St John’s over this three week period.
“The children’s ward will return to a 24 hour seven-day-a -week service in August.
“The postgraduate dean has confirmed that trainee doctors will also be returning to St John’s hospital in August, and we welcome that decision. We have also been successful in recruiting one new doctor to the team at St John’s and will be interviewing for further experienced doctors in the coming weeks.”