Announcement on failure to reopen Livingston's 24/7 children's ward was delayed for month
HEALTH Secretary Jeane Freeman has been challenged over a month-long delay in announcing that the children's ward at St John's Hospital Livingston would not be restored to 24/7 opening this month as promised.
Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay said the decision had been made by the Paediatric Programme Board (PPB) at the end of August but kept quiet until Ms Freeman answered a parliamentary question from Almond Valley SNP MSP Angela Constance on Friday last week.
In the Scottish Parliament debating chamber, Mr Findlay demanded: "Why has it taken from the end of August until the end of September to make this public? Was it just a coincidence that NHS had to reply to a letter I sent them?
Ms Freeman said she understood his anger. But she said: "It is not the case there was suddenly a government flurry of activity because he had written a letter.
"The PPB did make that decision at the end of August but what we did was question that decision and look further at it.
"You would expect me to query what a board is telling me they cannot do when what they can't do is what I have made a commitment that I need them to do.
Otherwise I would be failing in my responsibilities.
"There is no attempt to keep matters from this chamber - that is not my way. More importantly it is not my way to keep information from families whom this directly affects."
Ms Freeman agreed to a request from Ms Constance to meet parents concerned about the delay in returning to 24/7 operation.
The children's ward was shut for 18 months due to staffing pressures but re-opened four nights a week in March and was set to be fully reopened in October. No new date has been given for when the ward could reopen 24/7.
And she suggested St John's could help out with the situation in Edinburgh, where the opening of the new Sick Kids hospital has been postponed until autumn next year so remedial work can be carried out on the £150m building.
She said: "Given we have a first class children's ward, providing more services in West Lothian could not only help anchor a 24/7 service at St John's but also benefit the region as a whole."
But she said she had told NHS Lothian to over-recruit to take account of long-term sickness and other absences and she remained committed to 24/7 opening.
She said: "We have in st John's a first class and undoubtedly much-loved children's ward. I'm well aware of the growth in the area that St John's serves and the nature of that population growth - many families with young children.
"I fully expect NHS Lothian to consider the Lothian-wide delivery of paediatric services."