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3 August 2015, 15:19
NHS bosses are to carry out a comprehensive review of acute paediatric services after being forced to close a hospital children's ward to in-patients for weeks because of staffing problems.
The children's ward at St John's Hospital in Livingston will resume providing round-the-clock care from August 17, although NHS Lothian has warned the service will remain "fragile".
The ward has only been treating day patients since early last month, with youngsters who require in-patient care treated at Edinburgh's Sick Kids' Hospital instead.
About 3,000 youngsters were admitted to the children's ward at St John's last year, with some 700 of them requiring to remain in hospital for 24 hours or more.
Jim Crombie, chief officer of acute services at NHS Lothian, confirmed the ward "will reopen on a 24/7 basis from the middle of August".
But he added: "Given the fragility of the out-of-hours rota and the continuing concerns about longer-term sustainability, we have committed to undertake a comprehensive review of the acute paediatric service across Lothian.
"We have been struggling for some time to recruit sufficient trained staff to cover the out-of-hours rota at St John's Hospital and have relied heavily on a small dedicated group of staff volunteering to cover this by working additional locum shifts in addition to their normal daytime responsibilities.
"A combination of this chronic recruitment problem, exacerbated by sick leave and maternity leave, meant that the rota was particularly vulnerable during the peak summer holiday period.
"Reluctantly, we decided that the safest option was to close the ward overnight and at weekends for a six-week period."
The ward was also closed to in-patients in the summer of 2012, with NHS Lothian unable to resolve the staffing difficulties "despite concentrated efforts".
The health board has consulted with both staff and the Scottish Government during the recent closure, with Mr Crombie stating: "There is a consensus that the current staffing model is not sustainable for the longer-term and that a fundamental review of the acute paediatric service across Lothian is now required.
"The review is being planned in finer detail over the coming weeks and will be carried out over the coming months."