THE number of specialist beds for burns patients in Lothian is to be slashed by almost half, the Evening News can reveal.
Health bosses have said that the renowned burns unit at St John’s Hospital in Livingston has not been full since 2009 and that having 11 beds is no longer necessary.
NHS Lothian said that while the unit would be moved to a smaller site within St John’s and the number of beds would fall to six, the change represented an upgrade in facilities for patients.
But hospital campaigners have raised concerns over the change to the facility, which has served South East Scotland for two decades.
Gordon Beurskens, of the Action to Save St John’s Hospital group, said he feared the reduction in beds could affect the ability of the health service to cope in the event of a major fire disaster.
He said: “We accept that if there is evidence to show they do not need that number of beds then they can perhaps justify a reduction. But it doesn’t leave any room for manoeuvre if there is a major incident involving fire.
“People may call it scare-mongering but in any sensible society you have to have provision for emergency medical care. We saw the situation at Glasgow Airport.
“Evidence also shows that during a time of recession risks of fire increase significantly because people use less safe methods of heating.”
Cllr Beurskens also said he feared an increased infection risk for burns patients, if they are treated on general wards rather than in specialist areas. But the health board said the relocated unit would remain a dedicated burns facility.
No more than six beds have been full at the unit since 2009, while its operating theatre has not been used for burns patients since 2007 and is now mainly used for minor surgery, particularly hand operations.
Maternity patients will transfer temporarily to the existing burns unit once it relocates, allowing the labour site to be refurbished. Preparation work for the move is already under way, with the work due to be completed by next summer.
No decision has been made on what the existing burns area will be used for once it moves and the refurbishment of maternity services is complete, although it is understood that elective orthopaedic surgery could be carried out there.
Sandra Mair, site director of St John’s Hospital and director of operations for cancer, radiology and head and neck, said: “The specialist burns unit for patients from across south east Scotland was opened in 1992 and is currently being upgraded to provide improved, modern facilities for patients. Over the last 20 years, across Scotland, there has been a definite decline in the number of patients suffering burns and a shift in the way patients are treated as major advances are made in care.
“Now patients usually arrive through the emergency department, are admitted to critical care and undergo surgery in main theatres before being transferred to the burns unit.
“As a result there is no longer a requirement for a large number of beds or a dedicated theatre. The reconfiguration work, which will provide six beds, will allow the unit to have en-suite facilities and be relocated next to the existing plastic surgery ward.”
‘I’ll always be grateful to the doctors’
HANNAN Shihab is one of the patients to have benefited from the expertise of staff at the burns unit at St John’s.
She was treated there for burns which she sustained in 2003 when an American bomb landed near her home in Baghdad, knocking an oil lamp on to her bed and causing third-degree burns over 20 per cent of her body.
Hannan, now 25, has since become a British citizen after she received treatment in America and at St John’s, after she moved to Scotland in 2004.
She was treated in the burns unit, as well as by plastic surgeons at the Livingston hospital, where she underwent five operations.
Hannan, of Penicuik, said: “It’s important people there can get support from other people who have been through the same thing.
“It’s definitely good to have it in the area. There’s a Scottish camp for people with burns every year and nearly all of them have been treated in St John’s and the feedback is usually positive.
“I’ll always be grateful to the doctors and consultants at the hospital and the burns department is a great unit,” she added.