Comment: NHS Lothian had three years to learn lessons

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THE temporary closure of the children’s unit at St John’s Hospital in Livingston should be a matter that concerns all of us.

Whether you live in the west of Edinburgh or West Lothian, or indeed, whether you have children, is irrelevant. This closure goes to the heart of the debate about the reality of NHS care in the 21st century and what kind of health service we are prepared to fund.

To recap, NHS Lothian has opted to close the paediatric service for six weeks this summer as a result of staff shortages. Holidays, maternity leave and sickness have combined to leave staffing at an “unsafe” level. Inpatients will instead be treated in Edinburgh.

Such problems can occur, but the difference in this case is two-fold. Firstly, a similar closure happened in 2012. And secondly, the Scottish Government Health Secretary Shona Robison has refused to give a guarantee that the same issue won’t arise in 2016.

The 2012 closure should have given NHS Lothian three years to learn the lessons. The public has been told that skilled staff are “hard to come by”, and the problem is not specific to St John’s or Scotland, but an international issue.

Health is a devolved issue. The Scottish Government has control over policy and spending. It has been warned about the shortage. And yet here we are again.

Blaming the international staffing situation is convenient. If this had been a reserved issue the blame would have been placed at the door or Westminster.

We have control and there are measures we can take to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Worringly, Ms Robison doesn’t feel as though she can give a public commitment to this, even in the face of a 5500-signature petition from locals.

Elsewhere, A&E waiting times, cancer waiting times, bed blocking and cancelled operations continue to be a problem in many parts of Scotland. What kind of health service are we prepared to accept when there really is no-one else to point the finger at?