STAFF shortages at St John’s Hospital will close the children’s ward to admissions for three weeks in July.
If children need to be admitted they will be transferred to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh.
The announcement on Wednesday by NHS Lothian came in for immediate criticism with West Lothian Council demanding a full service throughout July.
Council leader John McGinty said: “Any reduction of paediatric services at St John’s is completely unacceptable, even for a temporary period.
“We requested that NHS Lothian ensure that these services are retained at St John’s during July and have now asked the Cabinet Secretary to step in to protect this vital service on behalf of West Lothian’s children.”
NHS Lothian announced this week that, to ensure patient safety, the temporary move was necessary.
From Monday, July 9, for three weeks, patients will not be admitted to the children’s ward.
Instead the ward will operate as an assessment and programmed investigation unit from Monday to Friday between 8am-8pm and will close at weekends.
The arrangements for transferring children to the Sick Kids in Edinburgh, if they need to be admitted to hospital following assessment, or if they become ill between 8pm-8am, are still being finalised.
NHS Lothian Board has taken the decision due to staffing and recruitment issues which they say have been well publicised.
In April this year a decision was made to remove trainee paediatric doctors from St John’s following a reduction in the number of available trainees across Scotland’s south-east region.
This reduced the number of doctors available to provide paediatric out-of-hours cover at the hospital.
NHS Lothian say it has done everything possible to cover shifts with the service being sustained since April using a combination of the existing team and locum doctors.
However, they are not confident about staffing levels during July and a temporary reduction in service was considered the safest option.
Dr David Farquharson, medical director at NHS Lothian, said: “The provision of a safe service for children, mothers and babies, is our top priority and we will not compromise that safety in any way.
‘’This is a temporary measure and the decision has not been taken lightly.
“Since the trainees were withdrawn in April we have relied heavily on the goodwill of those working in children’s services and on the ability to secure locum doctors at short notice.
‘‘We have exhausted all options.’’
Royal College of Nursing Scotland director Theresa Fyffe said: “West Lothian has one of Scotland’s fastest-growing and youngest populations.
‘‘It is very disappointing that, after months of speculation about staffing on the children’s ward, the decision has been taken to not allow admissions to the ward during the summer.
‘‘It has been very short-sighted of NHS Lothian to remove trainee doctors from the ward without putting in place measures to ensure enough cover is in place.
“Decisions like this indicate how the NHS workforce is stretched to breaking point, which is bad news for families and children in West Lothian.”
Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: ‘‘This is an appalling decision by NHS Lothian. They have known for over six months that this could happen.
“A consultant should have been appointed before now and the service could have continued.’’
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Alison McInnes MSP said: “It’s extremely concerning that St John’s has been allowed to get to breaking point before action has been taken to resolve the staffing situation.”