Campaigners have said they are “disappointed beyond words” by a decision to keep North Berwick’s Edington hospital closed.

NHS Lothian’s Gold Command group met yesterday (Thursday) to review a decision made in September to temporarily move staff from the Edington to East Lothian Community Hospital (ELCH), Haddington.

Alison Macdonald, chief officer of East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership (ELHSCP), said: “Transferring the staff who support Edington’s six inpatient beds has allowed us to open a total of 16 beds at the ELCH – that’s a net increase of 10 beds in East Lothian.

“We can only do that by having more staff in one place.”

But the decision was met by a “loud chorus of disapproval”.

Murray Duncanson, chairman of Friends of The Edington); Hilary Smith, co-chair of North Berwick Coastal Health & Wellbeing Association; and Judy Lockhart, chairperson of North Berwick Community Council said: “We are disappointed beyond words by ELHSCP’s decision to keep the Edington closed, a hospital that ran seven inpatient beds, not six, and was fully staffed at the time of closure.

“There was a loud chorus of disapproval from the community as evidenced not only by the petition that received approaching 8,000 signatures, the hundreds of emails and letters that we received – and undoubtedly NHS Lothian – and the fact that MSPs from three political parties came together out of a very sincere shared concern that we do not lose a vital healthcare facility that has been at the heart of our community for over 100 years.

“The steering group was not prepared to accept a further three-month wait to determine the future of the hospital and its services and called for future reviews to take place monthly, which has been granted.

“We also seek full and immediate clarification of the reopening criteria with a formal assurance that this will not be a permanent closure.

“ELHSCP owes the people of East Lothian that much.”

The reopening criteria used by NHS Lothian Gold Command to assess the impact of reopening beds at the Edington have now been released.

Questions asked are:

  • Will the return of the bed capacity to Edington hospital at this time help to maximise/maintain/reduce the available bed base to NHS Lothian?
  • Will the return of the bed capacity to Edington hospital at this time maximise/maintain/reduce the available bed base for East Lothian?
  • Will the return of the bed capacity to Edington hospital at this time positively affect/maintain/negatively affect the core staffing position across East Lothian?

An NHS Lothian spokesperson said: “Combining the criteria and rationale descriptor is intended to help Gold Command consider the potential options for returning bed capacity to the Edington hospital.

“A score in and of itself will not determine the outcome of any decision.

“A score of 7-9 is likely to indicate no change to the current position, a score of 3-6 will mean a judgement call may have to be made and a low score of 3 is likely to indicate a return of bed capacity to the Edington hospital.”

MSPs on the steering committee to reopen the Edington have also expressed their disappointment.

East Lothian MSP Paul McLennan said: “It came as no surprise but we’re disappointed.

“They mentioned that there’s 1,700 additional staff in NHS Lothian since the pandemic started but they are at capacity in most hospitals so are still looking to recruit.

“But we were getting quarterly reviews and I asked that we get a monthly review, which we will be getting.

“And Calum Campbell, NHS Lothian chief executive, is going to meet with the group, to give a clinician’s point of view of why staffing should be based in East Lothian Community Hospital.

“The new thing to be added in is the new variant, which is putting more pressure on hospitals.

“People getting the booster is really important because if that pressure isn’t lifted you’re going to get more people going through the system.

“And they’ll need to recruit additional people to deliver the booster vaccines; you’ve got social care looking for staff, the NHS looking for staff, and the booster programme, so they’re competing for the same pool of people.

“So we’re disappointed – although it wasn’t unexpected – but we need to keep working with NHS Lothian to get the Edington open again as soon as it’s clinically safe to do so.”

Martin Whitfield MSP said: “The continued closure is a devastating blow to a community that has fought for and supported this hospital.

“There is understanding that the pandemic has required NHS Lothian to plan differently; however, the short fall of 1,000 nurses and midwives in the Lothians area speaks of the years of underfunding and centralisation.

“The person who needs to get a grip of this situation is the Cabinet Secretary for Health, but so far he has failed to even agree a date to meet with Edington campaigners.

“This is just not good enough and North Berwick deserves better from the government.”

Conservative MSP Craig Hoy said: “This is deeply disappointing for local communities and campaigners.

“The original decision to close the hospital was taken with no consultation and since then the community has made clear its views on the future of the Edington Hospital.

“I will be making their concerns known to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament in a debate I have secured next week.”