A CHILDREN’S ward at a Scots hospital is at “breaking point”, health chiefs have warned.
A severe staff shortage means that doctors fear they will not be able to keep the department at St John’s Hospital, Livingston, West Lothian, running.
In a leaked letter to NHS Lothian medical director David Farquharson, six paediatric consultants wrote: “We are now concerned that we cannot guarantee the continuity of care and safe clinical care all times of the day and night.”
NHS Lothian has admitted that it is finding it “impossible” to fill vacant posts in West Lothian but that, despite the withdrawal of trainee posts, children’s care remained a priority.
The letter comes after it was revealed that trainee paediatricians would not be working at the hospital from April.
Senior sources have already warned that the move could bring an end to the department while campaigners worry it could herald a fresh round of cutbacks.
In the past as many as eight trainees have been sent to the hospital but recently this number has been cut to four and their withdrawal will leave the six consultants to run the ward alone.
The cutbacks could even lead to the ward operating under reduced hours, or even closing altogether.
Closing the ward would have a knock-on effect in the hospital as other wards, including maternity and accident and emergency, rely of paediatric staff to provide additional care.
A senior source said: “Breaking point has been reached, and it’s been coming.
“This won’t only affect the paediatric ward, it will have an impact across the entire hospital.
“It was very much a last resort for the consultants.”
A spokesman from campaign group Action to Save St John’s said: “Clearly the NHS have been relying on the dedication and goodwill of consultants.
“That was never sustainable, and their failure to address this issue has compounded an already difficult situation.
“We were facing a major difficulty. If the lack of trainees caused serious concerns about the safety of service delivery, their withdrawal from April is now a crisis.”
A joint statement from Dr Farquharson and NHS Education Scotland’s Professor Bill Reid said: “NHS Education for Scotland recently informed NHS Lothian of their decision to withdraw paediatric trainees from St John’s from early April.
“The recent unprecedented gaps in rotas, outwith our control, have meant that these senior trainees have had to be moved to other units.
“From April 11, until the staffing position improves significantly, no senior trainees will be sent to St John’s, other than for community child health purposes.
“Over the past three years we have made a number of attempts to recruit paediatric doctors, however a shortage of experienced paediatricians has made it difficult to fill advertised posts.
“A recent recruitment campaign to fill four consultant paediatrician posts and four consultant neonatologist posts to support out-of-hours work at St John’s attracted a very small number of applicants to the extent that it will be impossible to fill them all.
“In addition to recruitment, we have made changes to existing consultant staff’s job plans to include evening sessions and have increased the number of advance nurse practitioners to give us more options for providing continuity of care.”