St John’s Hospital report: Scottish Govt blamed for delays

St John's Hospital. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
St John's Hospital. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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THE Scottish Government was today accused of seeking to delay a report on the future of children’s services at St John’s Hospital, Livingston, for political gain.

Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay said correspondence released in response to a Freedom of Information request showed health secretary Shona Robison seeking to ensure the findings of a review being carried out by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health were not published until after the Holyrood elections.

One email exchange from October last year shows a Scottish Government civil servant thanking senior NHS Lothian official Jim Crombie for clarification of points raised by Ms Robison, then adding: “I’ve had a follow-up question, why is the review scheduled to be completed in early 2016?”

Mr Crombie replies: “The danger would be that a protracted process of review would see increasing vacancies and with this an increasing risk of service disruption.”

Mr Findlay said: “These revelations are appalling and truly shocking. Here we have NHS Lothian saying that any delay to this report could lead to staff leaving the ward because of uncertainty over its future, thus jeopardising the very existence of the service – and we have the cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government seeking to delay the report for party political gain. This is outrageous.”

The documents released also include what appear to be internal email exchanges within NHS Lothian from November, discussing how to respond to a letter and motion to parliament from Mr Findlay, calling for the report of the review to be published ahead of the elections.

One email to Mr Crombie and others from a sender whose identity is redacted begins: “Whatever the facts re this, Neil is clearly making the assumption that we have been asked by AC [Almond Valley SNP MSP Angela Constance] and/or FH [Linlithgow SNP MSP Fiona Hyslop] to delay making the findings public.”

The memo goes on to set out “options” on how to handle the issue.

These include: “We can stick with and distance ourselves completely from the timeline given by the Royal College.

“Or explain to the RC that the timing is politically sensitive and could they make it available sooner – by early March.”

The email then highlights the issue of election “purdah” – when public bodies are supposed to avoid controversial announcements – which would kick in on March 23.

It continues: “The neutral stance could arguably be to have it available before purdah, it being seen as a political advantage to the SG [Scottish Government] to delay the publication.

“That said, if we stick to publishing post-election it will remain an attractive campaign issue for Neil in particular rather than AC and FH – us in cahoots with SG. If we publish sooner then they are all drawn in and it also probably becomes a major local and media campaign.”

The NHS Lothian chief executive replies they should “stick to the facts” about the timeline and say the board could not consider such a politically sensitive issue during purdah, so it would go to their June meeting.