MSPs urge action to safeguard children's ward

21 February 2018, 06:32

St John's Hospital Livingston

Opposition politicians have called on the Scottish Government to take action to safeguard the future of a children's hospital ward.

The paediatric ward at St John's Hospital in Livingston has been closed to out-of-hours inpatients since July due to a shortage of staff.

This is the third closure in the past five years, during which children needing treatment are transferred to Edinburgh.

Now the Conservatives and Labour both want changes to enable graduate trainees to work at the hospital to help ease the staffing crisis and fears of future ward closure.

Speaking ahead of his Member's Debate on the ward closures on Wednesday, Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: "The SNP government has been utterly complacent over the growing problems at St John's.

"People need a 24/7 children's ward in Livingston - this has been recognised by two reports from the Royal College of Paediatrics, yet we are going backwards rather than forwards with the ward closing to out of hours patients three times in the past five years.

"This is all down to a workforce crisis under the SNP, with not enough staff to fill the vacancies to deliver the care patients need.

"Ministers must see sense, and finally set in motion a plan that will deliver a proper staffing model for the hospital so that local people get the service they deserve."

The Lothian MSP has previously written to the Dean of Postgraduate Medicine at NHS Education for Scotland over graduate trainees being brought back into the ward as part of a sustainable staffing model.

The Conservatives want the hospital to be given teaching accreditation for paediatrics, enabling trainee medics to boost staff levels on the ward.

The party's health spokesman Miles Briggs said: "Under the SNP government the downgrade of St John's Hospital has been relentless, despite Nicola Sturgeon promising that wouldn't be the case.

"Restoring the children's ward in this way would help reverse that, and ensure a major acute hospital remains and thrives in the area."

He added that ambulance journeys from St John's to the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh had increased from 11 in June 2017, when the ward closed, to 37 in August.

Jacquie Campbell, chief officer for acute services at NHS Lothian, said: "Any decision about the paediatric training status of St John's Hospital, Livingston, rests with Dean of Postgraduate Medicine at NHS Education for Scotland, working within General Medical Council oversight of postgraduate medical training.

"It is also important to understand that a return of training status to the department would not provide post graduate trainees to support out of hours shifts or lead to the reopening of the paediatric inpatient unit."

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "St John's is already a paediatric teaching facility, with training delivered to standards set by the General Medical Council."