THE children’s ward at St John’s Hospital is to reopen round-the-clock for four days a week from March - but full 24/7 care will not resume until October.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman made the announcement in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, 18 months after the ward was closed to inpatients, with children needing to stay in hospital overnight sent to Edinburgh.
Opposition MSPs welcomed the partial reopening but voiced concern it would be another nine months before the service was properly restored.
Ms Freeman said “improved medical and nursing staff numbers” meant the ward would reopen for inpatients from Monday to Thursday from March 18, with the current 8am-8pm service continuing Friday to Sunday.
She said: “From a nursing position, the ward will be fully staffed overnight four nights a week Monday to Thursday with a paediatric nurse in the emergency department for the remaining three nights Friday to Sunday as is the current arrangement.
“NHS Lothian expects the improved staffing position will support their commitment to re-opening the in-patient unit in October 2019.”
More than 1000 children have been transferred to the Royal Sick Children’s hospital in Edinburgh since the St John’s ended its round-the-clock cover for inpatient youngsters.
Lothian Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said: “Whilst assurances of improvements from the Health Secretary are welcome, this still means that sick and injured children are travelling past their local hospital, towards the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh for treatment until the inpatient unit is fully reopened. This extra distance means that children’s conditions can worsen on the way to hospital and families have to deal with extra stress and travel greater distances to be with their children.”
She said families in West Lothian had been let down before by the Scottish Government. “This commitment will be a real test for the Health Secretary.”
Lothian Tory MSP Gordon Lindhurst said it was concerning that a full re-opening of the inpatient unit was not planned until October.
“Periods such as the summer can often bring about added pressures for staff, yet there are still only plans to have a full service for four days a week at that point.
“I hope the SNP Government will ensure that sufficient resources are in place for NHS Lothian to have the staff in place in the coming months ahead of the planned full re-opening.
“Patients across Lothian will rightly have their doubts over the ward fully re-opening on schedule, considering the closures that have taken place in recent years.”
Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs, the Lothian region MSP, said children’s in-patient facilities at the hospital had been closed on three occasions, in 2012, 2015 and then in 2017.
“Local families across West Lothian will rightly be cynical about the latest SNP promises,” he said.
His views were echoed by Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon, who said the reinstated services “still fall short of the 24-hour consultant-led paediatric care” that the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has recommended.
She said: “We do know that over 1,000 children have been transferred to Edinburgh since the out-of-hours closures in 2017, with all the extra stress and expense that that brings for families.”
Since the inpatient service was suspended in 2017, a total of 1,049 children have been transferred to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh - with 906 admitted for treatment.
The remaining youngsters did not require to be admitted, meaning an average of 1.6 patients a day have been transferred.
NHS Lothian has recently recruited three new trainee Advanced Paediatric Nurse Practitioners as part of a drive to create a robust staffing model for the children’s ward.
Dr Tracey Gillies, medical director at NHS Lothian, said: “We have always said that we could only restore the full service when it was safe and sustainable to do so and that has been our priority throughout.”