Comment: Honest answers needed at St John’s

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it is not only the parents of young children who will be concerned by our report today on the parlous staffing situation at St John’s Hospital’s paediatric unit.

No public service should have to survive on “a wing and a prayer” let alone one that is providing care for sick children. Parents will inevitably be worried about the impact that an ongoing situation like this could have on the standards of care for young patients.

Older patients and their families will be worried too, asking can these sort of problems really be restricted to one unit in one hospital, or are they more widespread?

The warning from NHS Lothian chief executive Tim Davison and Jim Crombie, the health board’s chief officer of acute services, is a stark one. Once again it calls into question the long-term future of children’s hospital services at St John’s. Any cuts to services in Livingston always bring with them concerns about the hospital facing “death by a thousand cuts” with services gradually being stripped away.

This will all have a depressingly familiar ring to it for people living in West Lothian and the west of Edinburgh. It is true that St John’s seems to have lurched from one crisis of this kind to another in 
recent years.

One thing that patients will appreciate is the frankness which Mr Davison and Mr Crombie have shown. The future of the NHS has been the subject of hot debate for many years now, but all too often it becomes a political football, with claim and counterclaim leaving patients none the wiser to what is really happening.

Openness and honesty is exactly what is needed right now. Can the paediatric ward at St John’s survive under the current arrangements? And, if not, what can be done to protect local services?

We might not necessarily like the honest answers to these questions, but until we know the answers there is little chance of fixing the problems facing the hospital.