Temporary changes to the Children’s Ward at St John’s Hospital


For three weeks from Monday 9 July 2012, patients will no longer be admitted to the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital. The children’s ward will operate as an assessment and programmed investigation unit from Monday to Friday between the hours of 8am and 8pm. It will be closed at weekends.

There will be no change to maternity and neonatal services at the hospital.

NHS Lothian is working closely with the Scottish Ambulance Service, NHS 24, local GPs and neighbouring health boards to ensure the provision of a safe and reliable service during this three week period.

The arrangements for transferring children to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh, if they need to be admitted to hospital following assessment, or if they become ill between 8pm and 8am, are currently being finalised.

Extensive public awareness activity is being planned to ensure that families in West Lothian are aware of the temporary arrangements.

The Board has taken this decision, due to staffing and recruitment issues, which have been well publicised. In order to provide a 24 hour, seven-day-a-week service in the children’s ward and maternity unit, including the special care baby unit, the following level of out-of-hours paediatric staffing is required:

  • One junior doctor who is resident at the hospital over night
  • One experienced doctor or consultant who is resident at the hospital over night
  • An on-call consultant who can attend the hospital at short notice to provide a second pair of experienced hands.

The Dean of Postgraduate Medicine, NHS Education for Scotland (SE Region) made the decision to remove trainee paediatric doctors from St John’s hospital in April, following a reduction in the number of available trainees across the south east region. This has reduced the number of doctors available to provide paediatric out-of-hours cover at the hospital.

NHS Lothian has done everything possible to cover shifts and the service has been sustained since April using a combination of the existing team and locum doctors. However, it has not been possible to confidently secure enough staff for July and, following a detailed risk assessment, a temporary reduction in service is considered the safest option for children in West Lothian.

Dr David Farquharson, Medical Director, 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 children’s 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.”