Probe into NHS children’s services as ward reopens

St John's Hospital. Picture: Ian Georgeson
St John's Hospital. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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HEALTH chiefs have announced a probe into paediatric services in the Lothians, sparking fears it will herald the closure of a vital children’s ward.

The 14-bed paediatric unit at St John’s Hospital, Livingston, will reopen in two weeks after NHS Lothian was forced to close inpatient services last month due to chronic staffing shortages.

NHS Lothian chief executive Tim Davison admitted the current staffing model at the unit was “unsustainable” as the health board was relying on a small pool of medics to cover the out-of-hours service after national and international campaigns failed to fill the positions.

David Cleghorn, secretary of Dedridge community council, in Livingston, said: “I notice there is a sting in the tail of this announcement. The ward is open again but there is going to be a strategic review. We had this ten years ago with emergency care at the hospital and, sure enough, that was closed.”

His concerns were echoed by Norma McKinney, of Mid Calder community council, who said questions had not been answered about the future of the much-needed unit.

Ms McKinney said: “I am really disappointed in the board in the way that they have treated the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital. So many questions are going unanswered about what is going to happen.”

Thousands of people previously backed a petition launched by Neil Findlay MSP voicing concern over the partial closure, which saw patients diverted to the Sick Kids.

Speaking at the health board’s annual review yesterday, Mr Davison said there would be discussions to try to find a long-term solution to the staffing issues which have blighted the service.

He said: “The recruitment problem is complex and it’s something I can’t change. Unfortunately I don’t have a magic wand with which I can magic up staff.

“For some years St John’s has had a particular problem with recruitment, particularly within out-of-hours.

“It is fragile, there is no doubt about that. Our resources have to be balanced between patient safety and access.”

This is the second time NHS Lothian has been forced to downgrade the ward, as similar staffing shortages forced its temporary closure in 2012.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “Nicola Sturgeon, as health secretary, made a promise that St John’s would not be downgraded. Most people would regard this latest closure as a very significant downgrading.”

Health Secretary Shona Robison, who attended the annual review, pledged that the Scottish Government would continue to support NHS Lothian to address “significant recruitment and retention issues”.

The ward will resume operating a round-the-clock service on August 17.