CAMPAIGNERS fear the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital in Livingston is set to be permanently downgraded to a 9am to 5pm operation after a damning review exposed a catalogue of problems.
A leaked report from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health highlighted overworked staff, cancelled appointments, insufficient medical cover and plummeting morale among staff.
People have made their position very clear – they want a 24/7 functioning children’s ward. Children don’t get ill at convenient times – they don’t just get ill Monday-Friday, nine to five.Neil Findlay
Despite the problems, it said West Lothian hospital “merits retention” of in-patient paediatrics in the short and medium term.
But there is speculation that health bosses will decide the children’s ward should be cut back to a daytime assessment centre with patients who need to be admitted being sent to Edinburgh’s Sick Kids Hospital. The Royal College specialists were called in after a staff shortage forced the temporary closure of the ward for six weeks last summer. A similar situation also led to a three-week closure of the ward in 2012.
The report, which covered all NHS Lothian’s children’s services, said: “There are concerns that the service at St John’s may not be safe at times as it is not always possible to ensure safe staffing levels.”
The health board is due to discuss the report next week.
There have long been fears that the children’s ward at St John’s could face closure because of staffing difficulties.
But campaigners say public pressure and the high-profile campaign to save the ward may have made it politically problematic to shut it altogether.
Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “It looks as though our campaign to ensure the ward is not closed has been a success. The massive pressure by the public seems to have paid off.”
But he said there was still a fear it could be downgraded to an assessment centre which might be open only on weekdays from 9am to 5pm.
“That would raise a whole lot of concerns – about the distances involved and danger of patients’ condition deteriorating on the journey.”
He said such a downgrading would be unacceptable to the people of West Lothian.
“People have made their position very clear – they want a 24/7 functioning children’s ward. Children don’t get ill at convenient times – they don’t just get ill Monday-Friday, nine to five.
“NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government should get their act together and ensure that St John’s is given the resources it needs to function in the way that people in West Lothian want it to do.”
Ellen Glass, of the campaign group Action to Save St John’s, said she still feared the health board could decide to close the ward. “I don’t think they could run it as Monday-Friday, nine-to-five, but they might try that – I wouldn’t be surprised. But that’s not going to be enough for seriously ill patients.”
She said the future of children’s services at St John’s was “a huge issue” for local people and sending youngsters to hospital in Edinburgh caused massive problems.
“If you think of someone from Blackridge or Armadale, trying to get to Edinburgh could mean three buses. They might have other kids with no-one to look after them when they come out of school. It’s terrible.”
Lothian MSP and Tory public health spokesman Miles Briggs said a 9am-5pm centre would not be accepted: “Most people would see that just as a stay of execution, a token effort to keep it open.
“Children in hospital should have their families as close to them as possible, especially if a child is going to be in for a long period. I hope we can start from the position that the ward is staying open and work backwards to address the specific problem and how it can be managed.”
NHS Lothian has said it is committed to delivering the “safest and most sustainable” services for children and added that, despite significant investment, it continued to face challenges with recruitment and sustaining a 24/7 workforce.
The Scottish Government says health spending and staffing levels are at a record high.