CAMPAIGNERS fighting for the reopening of the Edington Cottage Hospital have had a meeting with Scotland’s Health Secretary.

Staff at the North Berwick hospital were moved to East Lothian Community Hospital in Haddington in September, resulting in the Edington’s temporary closure.

Health chiefs said the move was to consolidate staffing as it predicted a difficult winter due to Covid-19; they said the decision would be reviewed every three months.

Since then, campaigners have called for confirmation on when the Edington could reopen and, in recent days, have had meetings with Humza Yousaf MSP and representatives from NHS Lothian and East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership (ELHSCP).

Judy Lockhart-Hunter, chairperson of North Berwick Community Council, said: “The cabinet secretary understands the value of the Edington to the community; its closure is more than just a loss of beds, the services it offered worth more than just ‘bricks and mortar’.

“It was reassuring to hear him say that if there was the slightest suggestion the hospital was to close permanently, the health board would be taken to task.

“He has undertaken to write to NHS Lothian to ask for their full co-operation in both making information available to us and to continue to report to the steering group each month on the ongoing clinical decisions that impact on the reopening of the Edington.”

The meeting with Mr Yousaf was also attended by East Lothian MSP Paul McLennan, who heads up the Edington steering group involving local health representatives, community groups and cross-party politicians.

The group raised concerns around the reopening criteria and agreed to send in concerns for the Health Secretary to raise with NHS Lothian.

Discussions also looked at the impact of the closure on the community, in particular palliative care and minor injuries.

Mr McLennan said: “I was pleased to welcome the cabinet secretary to speak directly to the community groups involved. It was good to be able to show the strength of feeling about this issue, as well as the affection and regard for the hospital in the community. I was particularly heartened to hear the cabinet secretary welcome the community’s thoughts on the reopening criteria, as well as his commitment to continuing to work with both NHS Lothian and the community in seeking a resolution.”

Martin Whitfield and Craig Hoy, South Scotland MSPs, were keen to see progress made on reopening.

Mr Whitfield said: “It was helpful that the cabinet secretary at last met with the groups that have been fighting to reopen the Edington and listen to their concerns and those of the community.

“Everyone is aware of the impact of the pandemic; however, the effect of the closure has been enormous and the community deserves a road map to its reopening and I look forward to the cabinet secretary providing this.”

Meanwhile, Mr Hoy added: “I was pleased to be able to press the minister on whether the Scottish Government is committed to the model of care we see through cottage hospitals such as the Edington. Mr Yousaf gave an assurance that this is the case and I will be holding him to his word at Holyrood over the coming months.”

Calum Campbell, chief executive of NHS Lothian, previously declined to give a date for the reopening of the hospital and would not be held to a timescale.

The next review of the hospital’s future takes place at the end of this month.

Murray Duncanson, chairperson of the Friends of the Edington, felt the meeting had been worthwhile.

He said: “After months of asking for information, we have finally been able to engage in some positive dialogue and feel we have a far better understanding now of the backdrop to the closure and the challenges ahead.

“We would like to think that, now we have established an open line of communication, ELHSCP and NHS Lothian will continue to update us fully on the situation and the decisions that are made.”

Alison Macdonald, chief officer of ELHSCP, said: “The meeting was helpful as we continue to monitor the situation and have agreed further updates will be provided to the community group following the next review.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Health Secretary committed to ensuring community voices are heard by NHS Lothian and ELHSCP when he met campaigners this week.

“Mr Yousaf listened to concerns and underlined that decisions about local provision are best made locally.

“As he told Parliament on December 16, the relocation of beds from the Edington is a temporary measure, due to staffing issues as a result of the pandemic, and the decision will be kept under review by NHS Lothian.

“We understand the concerns but these temporary measures have provided additional capacity to support East Lothian residents and allowed increased capacity in other local services.”