LOCAL GPs have expressed sadness at the “temporary” closure of Edington Cottage Hospital in North Berwick from Monday, amid fears the century-old facility may not reopen.

NHS bosses announced last Wednesday that they had decided – without consultation – to consolidate staffing at East Lothian Community Hospital in Haddington for the winter “in the face of unprecedented levels of demand”, with the Edington’s six inpatient beds and the staff who support them being relocated to the Haddington hospital.

The move – which will see the Edington closed to inpatients and admissions, although its minor injuries unit will continue to operate – has been described as temporary and will be reviewed every three months.

It was announced as East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership (ELHSCP) said it anticipated “one of the most challenging winters on record”.

But opponents of the decision fear it could lead to the permanent closure of the much-loved St Baldred’s Road facility.

A community petition to ‘save the hospital’ has amassed thousands of signatures, while North Berwick GPs have said they are “saddened” at the closure and “aware that many patients may be upset and feel disadvantaged”.

And the chair of the Friends of the Edington Hospital group has claimed that a local health service boss confirmed to him that there was no guarantee the services would return to the hospital.

Politicians have also raised concerns, with East Lothian MSP Paul McLennan saying he will “advocate for a full community consultation” if the closure lasts past December, while South Scotland MSP Craig Hoy has written to Health Secretary Humza Yousaf MSP and Calum Campbell, chief executive of NHS Lothian, outlining his concerns that the move “will be used as an excuse” to “effectively close the Edington”.

The Edington has nine inpatient beds but only six have been able to be used since the Covid-19 pandemic started and these will all move to Haddington on Monday.

Patients occupying the beds are either waiting for alternative care or receiving palliative care.

The hospital provides medical care for a range of chronic conditions, mobility problems, respite and end-of-life care. It has 10 nursing staff, eight clinical support staff and four domestic staff, with some of the staff part-time.

Doctors at North Berwick Group Practice have said they are “saddened” at the closure, with a statement by Dr Morgan Flynn on behalf of all the practice saying: “It was explained to us that the reason for this closure is because of staff sickness and absence in other Lothian health sites. They are trying to maintain maximum number of open and available patient beds. As a practice, all of the doctors and all staff are very saddened by this development.

“We realise that everybody in the neighbourhood values the care and support provided by the Edington Cottage Hospital.

“We are aware that many patients may be upset and feel disadvantaged by this closure.

“We at the practice all hope that the undertaking we have been given will come to pass that the Edington will return to full inpatient care and capacity after this time of emergency.”

The Friends of the Edington Hospital held an emergency meeting on Monday which considered the possibility of forming a campaign to save the hospital.

Labelling the fact they were given just 12 days’ notice of the closure “bizarre”, chair Murray Duncanson said that the group hoped to host a public meeting and was also receiving advice about potential legal avenues they could explore.

He said he was “sceptical if the hospital would reopen”, adding it was difficult for residents to use public transport to travel from North Berwick to Haddington.

And Mr Duncanson also claimed in a letter to the Courier that Peter Murray, chair of East Lothian IJB, “confirmed to me that there could be no guarantee that this service will re-open”.

Judy Lockhart-Hunter, chair of North Berwick Community Council (NBCC), said the group was “shocked and saddened”.

She added: “Most residents in North Berwick will have family members or friends who have stayed under the excellent care of the staff at the Edington.

“NBCC are particularly disappointed that no consultation or communication has been had with the community.”

Meanwhile, a petition to “keep Edington Cottage Hospital in North Berwick open” has gained more than 3,500 online signatures since it was launched on Sunday.

Started by Sally McDonald, it states: “We feel as a community this is a vital and valuable service for North Berwick and surrounding areas, especially over the winter months. We MUST keep this cottage hospital open.”

The petition is at change.org/p/community-do-not-close-the-edington-cottage-hospital

Also condemning the move has been South Scotland MSP Craig Hoy, who said: “Patients do better when they are in their own communities, which is why local health services are so important.

“I am deeply concerned that this will be used as an excuse to permanently centralise inpatient services in East Lothian and to effectively close the Edington.”

East Lothian MSP Paul McLennan said he had been given reassurances about the Edington’s future but would be closely monitoring the situation.

He said: “I want to make clear that I have been given strong reassurances from East Lothian Council’s Integration Joint Board that this closure is temporary and have secured regular meetings between myself, the IJB and the Friends of the Edington to continue to monitor the situation.

“I am told this decision was taken on clinical grounds as we prepare for one of the most challenging winters on record.

“I intend to make sure this closure is as short as possible and will work to ensure the hospital can re-open as soon as it is clinically safe to do so.

“Should the temporary closure continue past December, I will advocate for a full community consultation so that those affected will have their voices heard in the review process.

"If you have any major concerns, please raise these with my office, or express these directly to ELHSCP or Lothian Health.”

Kenny MacAskill, East Lothian MP, added: “It’s disappointing but little else can be done in the circumstances. Patient safety must be paramount and that requires a full complement of staff.

“It will be very disruptive and distressing for many, so every effort must be made to ensure it’s as short as possible.”

Martin Whitfield, South Scotland MSP, said: “Staff at the Edington do brilliant work and I would want to see it back fully open again as soon as possible.

“However, this situation is a local manifestation of wider NHS funding and staffing problems that have been stored up over many years.”

Ward councillor Jeremy Findlay said: “All three [ward] councillors were briefed last week after the decision had been made by NHS Lothian without any consultation with local elected members.

“While we have been given assurances that this is not an attempt to close the Edington on the sly, this is not something that I am going to take at face value.

“I will do whatever is in my power to ensure that the Edington is not closed, at least until there is a suitable replacement in place in North Berwick.”

Fellow ward councillor Jim Goodfellow added: “Like most North Berwick area residents, I value the respite, palliative care and 24-hour minor injuries cover provided by the dedicated and hard-working NHS staff at the Edington Hospital.

“The decision to temporarily close the Edington has been made by NHS Lothian to address the acute shortage of nursing staff and the exceptionally high pressures on resources which East Lothian is experiencing. However, once the pressure has eased, I want to see the Edington back open as quickly as possible.”

But fellow ward councillor Jane Henderson refused to comment, saying: “I don’t speak to the press.

"I have an extremely long-held view that the press create problems where there are none."

When asked for a response to concerns about the move, ELHSCP declined to add any additional comments to those made at the time of the original announcement (see below).

The reasons behind the temporary closure

EAST Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership (ELHSCP) announced last Wednesday it had taken the “very difficult decision” to relocate six inpatient beds from the Edington Cottage Hospital in North Berwick to the East Lothian Community Hospital in Haddington for the winter.

ELHSCP said it was anticipating “one of the most challenging winters on record” and, as a result, the decision had been made to consolidate staffing at the Haddington hospital in a bid to ensure safe staffing levels and the best care for patients.

However, at the same time, ELHSCP announced an expansion of the Community Treatment and Care (CTAC) teams based at the Edington, as well as the introduction of a new physiotherapy service.

Alison Macdonald (pictured right), chief officer of ELHSCP, said “While the decision to relocate the six inpatient beds at Edington Cottage Hospital was very difficult, it has been made to ensure that patient safety is maintained.

“We are approaching what could be one of the most challenging winters on record for the NHS, coupled with the continuing threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This reality is the reason why we must act now, in a planned way, to consolidate staffing and ensure that we can maintain patient safety, continue to deliver quality care and protect the wellbeing of our hard-working staff.

“The relocation of the inpatient beds to East Lothian Community Hospital is temporary and will be reviewed every three months.

“We will be continuing to care for the small number of patients currently in the unit and to support them when they are ready to move on to their planned discharge destination.

“The GP service that is currently based at Edington Cottage Hospital will remain in place.”

Included within the plans is, say health chiefs, an expansion of the Community Treatment and Care teams based at the Edington. The team will continue to provide essential services, including management of minor injuries, dressing of wounds, removal of sutures, ear syringing and taking blood samples in preparation for chemotherapy. The service, which was previously only available on a limited basis, will now operate five days a week.

Also being introduced is a new physiotherapy service which is expected to be of particular benefit over the winter months, when demand for this type of service always increases.

Professor Alex McMahon, NHS Lothian’s director of nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare professionals, said: “Patient safety is always our number one priority.

“Whilst we understand the local community may have concerns, it is vital we make best use of our staff’s skills and allow for flexibility and effective bed management at this crucial time.

“We anticipate this winter will be an especially challenging time for NHS services.”