HEALTH bosses are facing new questions over the temporary closure of the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital in Livingston after both West Lothian’s MPs were sent a rota showing there were enough doctors to keep it open round the clock.
NHS Lothian announced last week that because of staff shortages the ward would close to inpatients from Friday, July 7 – the third time in six years such a step has been taken.
But the move was condemned by campaigners and politicians whose fears about the threat to the long-term future of paediatric services at the hospital prompted a review last year, which said they should be retained.
Livingston SNP MP Hannah Bardell said: “I have been handed a copy of the rota pinned up in the children’s ward for July and it shows there is cover to keep the ward open.”
She has now written to NHS Lothian deputy chief executive Jim Crombie, voicing dismay at the closure decision and asking whether doctors and staff were consulted.
She told him: “That a service would be reduced, without proper consultation with staff or the full information at your disposal, seems quite incredible.”
Linlithgow SNP MP Martyn Day said he too had an NHS document showing a “robust rota” was in place for July.
He said: “Further, I am led to believe that NHS Lothian did not even bother to consult with local staff before making their decision to suspend inpatient children’s services from next week.”
And he called for the closure decision to be reversed. “It is simply not acceptable for NHS Lothian to behave in such a cavalier fashion with our vital local services.”
Meanwhile, Lothian Green MSP Alison Johnstone questioned Health Secretary Shona Robison on the closure in the Scottish Parliament.
She said: “The staffing issues causing so much stress to children and families who use St John’s won’t be solved overnight but it’s clear the Scottish Government have not given these issues the priority attention they deserve.”
Ms Robison said NHS Lothian would engage further with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who carried out last year’s review, to ensure the service returned to a sustainable model.
“The Scottish Government will continue to support NHS Lothian to ensure the services on offer at the in-patient paediatric ward remain safe and sustainable in the long term.”
NHS Lothian’s Jim Crombie defended the closure decision, saying the current staffing situation represented “a significant risk to the safe provision of services”. But he said despite UK-wide difficulties in recruiting paediatric doctors, six new consultants had been appointed out of the eight it had been agreed were needed.
NHS Lothian said on June 19 the ward rota showed eight unfilled resident overnight shifts in July, four of which were to be covered by a locum – but such cover is regarded as “high risk” because agency doctors can pull out with no notice. There were also nine unfilled on-call slots, which might have been filled at short notice, but that would not be a “safe and reliable service” and the risk of short-notice closure was too great.