SICK and injured patients face a 40-mile round trip for accident and emergency treatment as a result of “disgraceful” staff shortages.
Patients who would normally be rushed to A&E at St John’s Hospital, Livingston, face an extra journey of 20 miles to the already-overstretched emergency department in Edinburgh.
NHS Lothian is planning to transfer some patients to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary between 11pm and 7am after they failed to recruit “adequate trained medical staff”.
Furious politicians from across the political spectrum have united to hit out at the proposals, branding them “disgraceful” and “unacceptable”.
West Lothian Council leader John McGinty said: “Reducing any service at St. Johns Hospital, for any period of time, is unacceptable.
“West Lothian has the fastest-growing younger and older populations in Scotland.
“Both of these groups will be affected by any changes to the accident and emergency service at St John’s.
“It will be of little solace to families in West Lothian who have to call for emergency help during the night to know that NHS Lothian is saying that the service will continue to be provided but not where people want it.”
Lothians Labour MSP Neil Findlay said health secretary Alex Neil should intervene.
He said: “This situation is completely unacceptable. The proposal to divert patients from St John’s to Edinburgh will mean long journeys and more suffering and inconvenience for patients and greater chance of people becoming more ill on the journey.
“In 2007, we heard SNP politicians commit to keeping healthcare local – that commitment now lies in tatters. The Scottish Government must intervene now to stop this downgrade of services at the hospital.”
Livingston MP Graeme Morrice agreed that the move was dangerous, warning it would “put lives at risk”.
He added: “Once again services have been mismanaged. This is the latest in a catalogue of problems to affect NHS Lothian, which once again demonstrates a lack of leadership.”
A & E departments across Scotland have been facing growing pressure in recent years, with a 9% rise in patients over the last decade.
Last year, a third of patients waited for more than four hours in emergency rooms before being admitted or discharged.
Last month it was revealed that Scots health boards are turning away patients from A & E departments in a crackdown on supposed time-wasters.
NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Borders are telling people whose condition isn’t deemed to be serious enough to go home and make an appointment to see their GP.
NHS Fife will implement the policy this month and NHS Dumfries and Galloway are considering following suit.
Speaking at an NHS board meeting, Dr David Farquharson, medical director of NHS Lothian, said: “Maintaining safe emergency departments is a priority and the A & E department at St Johns Hospital is crucial to our provision of care across Lothian.
“Recruiting trained doctors for speciality roles is a challenge across the UK. We have been working for some time to try to recruit the staff required to maintain our services once the number of trainee doctors reduces in the summer and these efforts continue.
“However, it is essential that we have contingency plans in place to ensure we provide a safe service for our patients. Our existing policy which sees West Lothian patients with medical conditions such as surgical emergencies or major trauma being taken to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh has worked successfully many years.
“There may be a need to extend this policy to cover other conditions between the hours of 11pm and 7am if we are unable to recruit adequate trained medical staff. It is vital to note that the emergency department will remain open 24/7.
“We are doing everything possible to ensure the current service is maintained.”