Local residents are being urged to join a parade in support of their local hospital after health chiefs closed its only ward, leaving some dying patients without the support they needed.
The Edington Hospital in North Berwick saw its seven-bed ward temporarily close last September after NHS Lothian decided to centralise staff to cover shortages.
The move sparked a wave of protests in the town amid fears the community hospital would suffer a “creeping closure” as a series of reviews failed to produce any promise of a reopening date.
Now protesters are holding a parade through the town centre and are appealing to locals to join them.
The parade will start at noon on Sunday, April 24, from the town’s Imperial Car Park.
Organisers ‘Hands Around The Edington’ told residents: “Over six months ago, vital healthcare services were taken away from our community: access to a 24/7 Minor Injuries Unit and inpatient beds benefiting North Berwick, Gullane and the wider East Lothian population.
“This must not become a creeping closure. We need you to turn out in numbers to show that the people have not forgotten; to show that you want to keep care in the community.”
Last month, a local GP said three out of five people who died at home from cancer since the closure of the ward would have benefited from its support.
And she said claims by health bosses that only two people from North Berwick had been referred for palliative care to East Lothian Community Hospital (ELCH) in Haddington since it closed were misleading, as people were reluctant to travel to the alternative facility.
Dr Clare Doldon, GP partner at North Berwick Group Practice, said: “This figure gives a false picture of the state of palliative care locally; as a practice we have 20 active patients on our palliative care register all being managed at home.
“We are experiencing a reluctance from patients and families to be admitted to the ELCH, whereas many of these families would have requested or accepted care in the Edington in the past.
“Since the closure we have had eight cancer-related deaths, five of which took place at home and, of those, three were prolonged and difficult and would have been better managed with the back-up of the Edington.”
Staff at the Edington were temporarily transferred to the Haddington hospital last September in a bid to tackle shortages caused by sick leave and absences in the county.
Health bosses have insisted the hospital itself is not closed, with non-emergency services still being offered.
But Dr Doldon said the minor injuries unit previously based there was a 24/7 service, which has also gone.
And they said transferring the Edington staff to Haddington had allowed then to keep more beds open overall at a time of staff shortages.
Alison MacDonald, chief officer of East Lothian Health & Social Care Partnership (ELHSCP), said: “At all times, our priority must be to maintain staffing levels that are safe for patients and staff.
“Due to staffing pressures, which are being felt across the whole NHS, we have had to temporarily consolidate staff supporting the six beds at Edington Hospital to East Lothian Community Hospital.
“More staff in one place allows greater flexibility in how they are deployed day-to-day and has enabled us to offer up to 16 extra beds to support the people of East Lothian.
“At least 35 new members of staff have been recruited since September. Existing vacancies are being supplemented with bank and agency staff, as well as offering overtime to current staff.
“The situation remains under constant review, with ELHSCP and NHS Lothian looking at long-term solutions in relation to recruitment and retention.
“Sadly, East Lothian is not immune to the staffing pressures being felt across the whole system, which continue to be significantly impacted by the pandemic, and we ask for public understanding at this time.”