CONSULTANTS at St John’s Hospital have warned their NHS bosses that the temporary closure of its children’s ward is “wrong” and could put patients in danger.
NHS Lothian has said it has been forced to close the ward for three weeks from Monday due to a shortage of cover staff, and that it is safer to instead transfer sick children to Edinburgh for overnight care.
But in a letter from the paediatric consultant body at the hospital to Dr David Farquharson, NHS Lothian’s medical director, the consultants say they are “fully staffed” and a “robust rota” is in fact in place.
The letter, which has been seen by the Evening News, also raises concerns that the move has been rushed and that no recent contact was made with consultants before the decision to close the ward was taken.
Former councillor Gordon Beurskens, spokesperson for the Action to Save St John’s Hospital group, said the letter showed NHS Lothian had misled the public and Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon.
He said: “The lack of consultation with doctors at St John’s is bad enough, but the letter shows this is a potentially unsafe closure. NHS Lothian claimed this was unavoidable due to a lack of staff, but the unit is fully staffed in July.
“If they have the full compliment of staff why then do they want to close the ward for a temporary period? It doesn’t make sense unless they’re trialling it.”
NHS Lothian has strongly denied claims that the closure of the ward is a “trial run” for the permanent removal of the overnight children’s ward.
The health board reiterated its commitment to the long-term future of the ward, and said one new consultant will begin this month with three more set to be appointed.
Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Dr Richard Simpson, who is Labour’s health spokesperson at Holyrood, worked at St John’s Hospital for two-and-a-half years until 2007 as a consultant psychiatrist in addiction. He said staffing was on a “knife-edge” throughout many areas in the health service.
He added: “I can’t believe that management would unnecessarily close a unit. They acted on the grounds of patient safety. I think it is very important that staff feel able to express their views.”
Dr Farquharson said staffing was in place at the hospital, but that NHS Lothian had been unable to ensure back-up was available if there was an unplanned absence.