Health chiefs are facing a race against time to keep a vital children’s ward open around the clock if medics do not agree to new plans ensuring the future of the service.
The 14-bed paediatric unit at St John’s Hospital, in Livingston, has been under threat as chronic staffing problems forced NHS Lothian to close it to inpatients in 2012 and 2015.
Top children’s doctors from the Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health (RCPCH) recommended maintaining a 24-hour service with a consultant present at night and one on call after conducting a Lothian-wide review.
But board members heard yesterday that this model could cost £1 million and take more than two years to set up if the current NHS Lothian consultants do not agree to take on these extra night shifts.
Yesterday, NHS bosses backed a temporary option to keep the ward open to emergency admissions from 8am to 8pm, allowing stable children to remain overnight while unwell patients would be sent to the Sick Kids in Edinburgh.
If consultants cannot be persuaded over the next two months then the ward will operate this system from August, while health chiefs “vigorously pursue” the plan of round-the-clock care.
NHS Lothian chief executive Tim Davison said: “What we are clear about is the current model of a small group of staff working excessive hours at an excessive cost is not sustainable.”
Board members heard there had been resistance from medics over closing the ward at night time to admissions. Mr Davison said: “What we are saying is the service has to be sustainable.
“This option does keep the unit open 24 hours a day and it also keeps stable children from having to be transported across town at night.”
Discussions are under way with medics over whether these hours could be extended or the rota filled before August.
Health bosses will also consider drawing up rotas where Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and Sick Kids consultants also cover St John’s, while senior nurses could plug gaps.
Dr David Shortland, one of the authors of the RCPCH report, told board members that “a crisis” in paediatrics recruitment across the UK made it a challenge to run small paediatric units.
He said: “I recognise that you have gone to super human efforts to keep the unit open. What we have tried to do in this report is come up with options to make this sustainable.”