A WIDE-RANGING review of children’s services across Lothian has sparked fears it could be “the beginning of the end” for a struggling hospital ward.
Experts from the Royal College of Paediatric Health are being called in to conduct a probe across the whole of Lothian, in the wake of chronic staffing shortages at the St John’s Hospital children’s unit in Livingston.
The 14-bed ward was closed for six weeks over the summer due to staff shortages and NHS Lothian’s board meeting heard yesterday that the staffing situation remains “fragile” as only three out of nine out-of-hours shifts are filled on a substantive basis.
Health chiefs failed to provide assurances that the two-month review, which is due to start next month, would not lead to the downgrade of facilities at St John’s.
Campaigners from the Action to Save St John’s Hospital group branded the review “an absolute disgrace”, claiming that NHS Lothian was using the probe as a way to pass the buck on downgrading services.
Ellen Glass, a spokeswoman for the group, said: “This review is just a way out for the Lothian health board and I think it is an absolute disgrace.
“It’s the beginning of the end for the children’s ward.
“People of West Lothian will lose out from this decision. It’s such a long way for some people to get to Edinburgh, and if you have a large family then it is a nightmare. This is not being done for the benefit of the public.”
The review will look at acute services at the Sick Kids hospital, in Edinburgh, as well as St John’s Hospital, to ensure there is safe cover for paediatric services across the region.
West Lothian councillor Frank Toner called on NHS Lothian to continue a sustained recruitment campaign to ensure the empty positions could be filled while the review was going on.
But Jim Crombie, chief officer of acute services at NHS Lothian, said a number of recruitment campaigns had failed to fill the two empty consultant posts.
Mr Crombie said: “This is not a review focused on one site or on one geographic area but rather a whole Lothian review.
“The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has extensive experience of undertaking such reviews.
“We are really keen for these respected clinical experts to lead on this important programme of work.
“We are keen to have their expert recommendations which will support our clear priority – which is the provision of safe, effective and sustainable services for our patients and their families from across Lothian and beyond.
“This review will be undertaken with significant input from our clinical staff across Lothian and will of course seek feedback and opinion from service users, their families and other interested stakeholders.”
The ward was closed to admissions for three weeks in July 2012 due to a severe shortage of trainee doctors.