THOUSANDS of people have backed a petition protesting at the partial closure of the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital in Livingston for six weeks over the summer.
NHS Lothian announced last week that, due to staff shortages, the ward would not be accepting in-patients until the middle of next month, with youngsters diverted to the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh.
A petition launched by Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay, voicing concern at the move, has now collected more than 5500 signatures.
He pointed out there was a similar three-week closure of the ward three years ago and claimed health chiefs should have sorted out the staffing problem by now.
Mr Findlay said: “In less than a week, over 5500 people have signed my petition. This is an astonishing expression of unhappiness by the people of West Lothian at the Scottish Government and NHS Lothian. It really is time for NHS Lothian and the government to take note and sort the staffing mess out once and for all.
“A fully staffed children’s ward that is open seven days a week and 24 hours a day means a lot to people in West Lothian. It really does beggar belief that there has been a failure to sort out the staffing crisis since the first summer closure of the children’s ward in 2012.
“It’s high time that NHS Lothian, with help from the Scottish Government, sort this staffing crisis out.
“As things stand it’s not fair on the staff who are there and its not fair on the people of West Lothian.
He said he had written to NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government expressing his concerns.
“I expect to meet NHS Lothian soon to hear from them how they expect to solve this terrible situation for the parents and children of West Lothian.”
The Evening News revealed two weeks ago that the children’s ward at St John’s was at risk because it had not been properly staffed for three years.
Senior doctors said the 14-bed unit – which provides care for children under 13 from the west of Edinburgh and West Lothian – was staffed “on a wing and a prayer” and was “incredibly vulnerable”, with medics regularly asked to work extra shifts at nights and weekends.
Holidays, maternity leave and sickness have combined to force the six-week temporary closure because staffing would be at an “unsafe” level.
At the weekend, health secretary Shona Robison insisted the ward would reopen at the end of the six-week period.
But she was unable to guarantee it would not have to close again next summer and highlighted an ongoing shortage of paediatric consultants.
She said: “We are going internationally again to try and recruit paediatric posts, we will continue to expand the number of nurse practitioner posts. I don’t envisage that it will close next summer. The issues of sick leave, maternity leave and annual leave all came together this summer, I don’t envisage that those issues would come together next summer in the way they have this summer.”