Miles Briggs: Nicola broke promise on St John’s

There are ongoing fears for the future of St John's Hospital. Picture: Ian Georgeson
There are ongoing fears for the future of St John's Hospital. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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In 2007, not long after the SNP came to power, Nicola Sturgeon attended a board meeting of NHS Lothian, which had been specially arranged to take place in Livingston.

Aware of the concerns locally about the future of St John’s Hospital, the health board was keen to branch out to West Lothian and show it was serious about the facility.

Miles Briggs is a Scottish Conservative Lothians MSP and shadow health secretary

Miles Briggs is a Scottish Conservative Lothians MSP and shadow health secretary

Also keen to show support was Ms Sturgeon, at that point Scotland’s health secretary.

She told the assembled group of medics, campaigners, patients and journalists that she would give her “personal commitment” to the hospital.

And who could blame her? Only months before, a number of councillors were elected to West Lothian council as part of the Action to Save St John’s group, a single-issue organisation committed to “stopping the downgrade”. That’s how strongly voters felt about the situation.

Fast-forward a decade, and St John’s is a hospital on its knees.

It serves a massive population body and frequently caters for patients not just from Edinburgh, but other parts of the Central Belt.

Earlier this month it was confirmed the children’s short-stay assessment would close at weekends over Christmas and New Year.

That was just the latest problem to hit that facility and it lends weight to years of suspicion locally that St John’s is being downgraded, from a major acute facility to a glorified day clinic.

And while St John’s has been neglected and lost services, patients in West Lothian have had to watch while other projects in Edinburgh – like the new Sick Kids and replacement Royal Edinburgh – plough on.

It’s increasingly clear that a promise made by the First Minister, when she was health secretary, has been broken. In fact, were it not for an incredible nursing team at St John’s – who work their fingers to the bone under intensifying circumstances – things would be even worse at the hospital.

My mailbox is increasingly taken up by visitors and staff who simply cannot get parked there. It’s all very well for the SNP to boast about abolishing parking charges at hospitals, but it’s basically meaningless if a surgeon expected in for their shift has to prowl the town for a space.

A decade on from that hollow commitment given to the people of West Lothian, perhaps it’s time for Nicola Sturgeon to visit the area again, and bring her health secretary with her.

And when she does, perhaps she could this time set out a meaningful pledge about the future of the hospital and one that will reassure people in and around Livingston that their much-loved and much-needed hospital has a bright future.

Miles Briggs is a Scottish Conservative Lothians MSP and shadow health secretary.