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19 December 2017, 16:37
A children's hospital ward is to close on weekends over the Christmas and New Year holidays due to a shortage of doctors.
NHS Lothian said the decision for temporary closures of the children's short stay assessment unit at St John's Hospital in Livingston, West Lothian, was taken to "guarantee a safe service".
The health board said ongoing staff and recruitment problems mean there are not enough doctors available to cover nights and weekends.
Children who require a hospital stay when the ward is closed will be transferred to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh.
The unit at St John's will be closed on the weekend of December 23 and 24 and reopen on Christmas Day before closing again the following weekend, January 30 and 31, and resuming normal service from New Year's Day.
Jacquie Campbell, chief officer of acute services at NHS Lothian, said: "Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to reliably secure the levels of staffing required on the festive weekends to guarantee a safe service.
"The safety of our patients must be our top priority and for that reason the unit will not open. This is the safest option for the children of West Lothian and normal service will resume at the start of each week."
Parents who require health care or advice over the closure weekends should take the usual step of calling NHS 24 on 111. They will either be directed to an out-of-hours GP or referred on to the most appropriate place.
Children will still be assessed and treated at the emergency department at St John's and a paediatric consultant will be available around the clock.
Maternity and neonatal services at the hospital are unaffected.
Similar closures of the children's ward due to staff shortages occurred on December 3 and 9.
Labour MSP for Lothian Neil Findlay said: "This is a scandal that grows worse by the week. The ward has been closed over two weekends already and now it will be closed another two over Christmas and New Year.
"People need a 24/7 children's ward at St John's - this has been recognised by two reports from the Royal college of Paediatrics, yet we are going backwards rather than forwards. We need action now to end this mess."