Children’s ward at hospital may not fully reopen until 2024

St John's Hospital in West Lothian is unable to reinstate round-the-clock services.

St John's Hospital: The children's ward is open four nights a week. <strong>CC / Anne Burgess</strong>
St John's Hospital: The children's ward is open four nights a week. CC / Anne Burgess

It could be up to five years before the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital in Livingston is once again able to care for young patients around the clock, health bosses have been warned.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said in August that fully reopening the ward could take three to five years to achieve.

Staff shortages forced bosses at NHS Lothian to suspend full-time care for youngsters at St John’s in July 2017.

In March this year, the ward reopened four nights a week from Monday to Thursday.

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Minutes from a meeting of NHS Lothian’s paediatric programme board, obtained by the Conservatives via a freedom of information request, revealed the hospital “is currently finding it challenging to open for four days” and “it would be unwise to extend this further at the moment”.

They further revealed that Martin Hill, the chairman of the paediatric programme board, said “it would appear to be ambitious to consider opening 24-7 for seven days at this stage”.

In October, health secretary Jeane Freeman told MSPs she could not say when the ward would fully reopen – despite having previously pledged it would be providing 24/7 care for patients by last month.

The paediatric programme board has been working on the recruitment issues NHS Lothian faces in a bid to restore round the clock services at St John’s children’s ward.

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But during a meeting on August 27, Mr Hill “noted NHS Lothian had been advised by the RCPCH that this would take three to five years to achieve”.

The minutes of the meeting add that “the service is currently finding it challenging to open for four days and that, with patient safety being the prime consideration, it would be unwise to extend this further at the moment”.

NHS Lothian is currently dealing with delays to the opening of the new Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh.

In Glasgow, wards at the Royal Hospital for Children – which is on the same campus as Queen Elizabeth University Hospital – had to be closed in September last year following concerns from Health Protection Scotland over incidents of water contamination.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “The SNP is failing sick children and their families right across the country.

“It’s bad enough that the flagship paediatric hospital in Edinburgh has been delayed for almost a decade on its watch but now we learn there are major delays in West Lothian, too.

“For more than two years a key children’s unit – which has historically served young patients on a 24/7 basis – has been downgraded.

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“Jeane Freeman promised this would be sorted by October, only to admit that wasn’t happening, and now we learn a full reopening could be five years away.”

Dr Tracey Gillies, medical director at NHS Lothian, said: “The safety of children has and always will be the overriding priority in any decision relating to the recommencement of 24/7 inpatient services in the children’s ward at St John’s.

“We have made encouraging progress in moving towards a safe and sustainable out-of-hours rota but are continuing our enhanced efforts to recruit the required staff which will allow us to fully re-open 24/7.

“In the meantime, parents should not do anything differently and if they need access to healthcare should still contact their GP, out-of-hours services via NHS24 or go straight to the emergency department if required.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It was in 2016 that the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health reported that the suggested recruitment strategy would take three to five years to allow the reopening of the inpatient children’s ward. So it is totally wrong and misleading to suggest that it would be five years from 2019.

“Patient safety is always our main concern and, despite extensive recruitment efforts, the unanimous clinical view was that it was not possible to safely reinstate the full 24/7 service at St John’s in Livingston from October.

“The health secretary has been clear in committing to the full 24/7 reinstatement of the service as soon as it is safe to do so and has been assured that NHS Lothian will continue their recruitment efforts to make sure they can deliver on the commitments they have made to parents and children and the staff at St John’s.”


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