NICOLA Sturgeon has sidestepped a challenge to guarantee the future of the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital, Livingston.
She was put on the spot over the issue at First Minister’s Questions when Scottish Labour leader and Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale raised concerns about the future of the ward, which is currently under review.
Ms Dugdale said: “The First Minister will tell us that it is a decision for the health board, but she has overruled officials before and she should do so again now.
“Can the First Minister confirm, once and for all, that she will not allow the children’s ward at St John’s to be either closed or downgraded?”
Ms Sturgeon said Ms Dugdale was asking her to declare now that she would ignore the recommendations from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which is carrying out the independent review. And she claimed that when Labour was in power, it had taken away from St John’s services such as trauma orthopaedics and emergency surgery and there had been fears the hospital would be downgraded or even closed.
She said the SNP, in contrast, had protected A&E at St John’s and invested in other services.
“This government has protected St John’s Hospital from the cuts that were imposed on it by the former Labour administration.”
But Ms Dugdale demanded: “If the First Minister is so good at protecting services at St John’s, why cannot she protect the children’s ward?
“People can see that this Government is pulling the wool over their eyes.” She referred to emails released under a Freedom of Information request by fellow Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay which suggesting Health Secretary Shona
Robison had been pressurising officials to delay a decision on St John’s until after the election.
“Now we know that the First Minister will not guarantee that the children’s ward will stay open.”
Ms Dugdale claimed the NHS in Scotland was “at breaking point” and said new statistics showed stress among staff last year cost the health service 287,000 staff days, a rise of 21 per cent on two years ago.
She said: “Hard-working, loyal staff are crying out for help.
“The issue really matters, because it puts vital NHS services that are facing SNP cuts under even more pressure.”
In NHS Lothian, the number of days lost through staff stress increased from 25,455 in 2012/13 to 30,352 in 2013/14 and 34,007 in 2014/15.
Ms Sturgeon said that since the SNP government took office there had been an increase of 10,500 in the number of people working in the NHS in Scotland.