A beleaguered hospital is to turn away sick children tomorrow because chronic staff shortages mean it does not have enough doctors to cover overnight and weekend shifts.
Instead, children requiring hospital admission will be transferred to Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children.
It is not the first time St John’s has been forced into a partial shutdown.
Earlier this summer, its inpatient children’s ward was closed for the fourth time in five years because of long-term sickness absence and problems recruiting paediatricians.
Last year, a study by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health recommended the ward be retained after previous temporary closures for the same reason.
Only last month, health secretary Shona Robison ordered an independent review into how waiting times are recorded at the hospital after concerns about its A&E department were raised by a whistleblower.
In a statement concerning the latest shutdown, NHS Lothian said children will continue to be assessed in the hospital’s A&E department, with a paediatric consultant available on call. However, the closure has been roundly criticised by opposition parties.
Miles Briggs MSP, shadow health secretary for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “SNP ministers need to understand the level of anger and frustration among West Lothian families and residents at this latest closure and the ongoing issues at St John’s and want answers.
“I will continue to press the Scottish Government on this matter and call on them to support NHS Lothian as it seeks to recruit the staff required so that inpatient paediatric services are permanently available.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokesman, Anas Sarwar, said: “This closure is deeply troubling and will be a great concern to parents across the Lothians. The SNP has left our NHS staff over-worked, under-valued and under-resourced.
“Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers persistent failure to workforce plan or give our hard-working health service staff a pay rise has led to a recruitment crisis.”
Jacquie Campbell, chief officer of acute services at NHS Lothian, said: “The safety of our patients must be our top priority and for that reason the unit will not open on Sunday.
“Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to reliably secure the levels of staffing required on Sunday to guarantee a safe service. This is the safest option for the children of West Lothian and normal service will resume on Monday.”