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Staff shortage shuts children's ward during summer

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A hospital has said it will not admit patients to its children’s ward for three weeks during the summer because of a staff shortage.

The ward at St John’s Hospital in Livingston, West Lothian will still assess patients on weekdays but will have to transfer children to Edinburgh if they need to be admitted.

NHS Lothian said the decision was “not taken lightly”.

Trainee paediatric doctors were removed from the hospital in April, reducing the number of doctors available to provide out-of-hours cover. Shifts have been covered since then using the existing team and locum doctors.

The health board said it was not possible to secure enough staff for the three-week period. From July 9 the ward will open Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm as an assessment and programmed investigation unit but will close at weekends.

Arrangements are being made for transferring children to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh if they need to be admitted following assessment or if they become ill during opening hours.

There are no changes to maternity and neonatal services at the hospital, the health board said.

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“Since the trainees were withdrawn in April we have relied heavily on the goodwill of those working in children’s services and on the ability to secure locum doctors at short notice.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 in trying to arrange the same level of cover in July but as this is the peak holiday season, we have been unable to reassure ourselves that we would be able to provide a safe and effective service for the children’s ward and maternity services at St John’s over this three-week period.”

The ward will return to a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service in August.

“The postgraduate dean has confirmed that trainee doctors will also be returning to St John’s Hospital in August, and we welcome that decision. We have also been successful in recruiting one new doctor to the team at St John’s and will be interviewing for further experienced doctors in the coming weeks,” Dr Farquharson said.

The health board said that to provide round-the-clock services in both the children’s ward and maternity unit, including the special care baby unit, one junior doctor and one experienced doctor or consultant resident at the hospital overnight is required, as is an on-call consultant.


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