A GROUP campaigning to reopen the Edington Hospital in North Berwick has slammed NHS Lothian’s focus on beds and staffing, ahead of a review of the hospital’s closure this week.

Staff at the hospital were moved to East Lothian Community Hospital (ELCH) in Haddington last 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.

READ MORESix inpatient beds temporarily moving hospitals from North Berwick to Haddington

In a list of criteria released by NHS Lothian in December, and repeated at last month’s review, the organisation prioritised bed capacity, “staffing resource and nursing leadership” in its decision to return services to the Edington.

But members of the Hands Around The Edington campaign said they were “disappointed” by the reopening criteria.

Murray Duncanson, chairman of Friends of The Edington; Hilary Smith, co-chairperson of North Berwick Coastal Health & Wellbeing Association; and Judy Lockhart-Hunter, chairperson of North Berwick Community Council, said in a joint statement this week: “Hospital admissions in Scotland because of Covid are now down to double figures; there have been no Covid-related deaths in NHS Lothian for over a week; nine nurse staff vacancies have been filled across in-patient wards at East Lothian Community Hospital since September; and yet, in spite of all of this, we are no closer to knowing when services will be reinstated at the Edington.

“While we were pleased to finally have a two-way discussion with NHS Lothian and East Lothian Health & Social Care Partnership (ELHSCP) last month concerning the circumstances behind the closure and the ongoing challenges faced by the health board, we were disappointed to learn that the reopening criteria were based solely on bed supply and staffing, and not the hugely important value-led aspects around the quality of care that the Edington provided or the added strain that has been put on patients, carers and families as a result of the closure.

“We have asked for, and have yet to receive, clarification on how the criteria apply in real terms to the reopening of the Edington so that we have a better understanding of what needs to happen to get us to that end point.”

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Dr Claire Doldon, a partner at North Berwick Group Practice, added: “The purely numerical assessment of in-patient bed requirements belies the true state of patient care locally and does not give a clear picture of the importance of the Edington to our community.

“ELHSCP reported at our meeting in January that only two patients had been referred for end-of-life care at the ELCH. This figure gives a false picture of the state of palliative care locally; as a practice, we have 20 active patients on our palliative care register, all being managed at home.

“We are experiencing a reluctance from patients and families to be admitted to the ELCH, whereas many of these families would have requested or accepted care in the Edington in the past.

“Since the closure, we have had eight cancer-related deaths, five of which took place at home and, of those, three were prolonged and difficult and would have been better managed with the back-up of the Edington.”

Paul McLennan, East Lothian MSP, heads up the Edington steering group involving local health representatives, community groups and cross-party politicians. He said they were hoping to “see progress”.

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In an email to Alison Macdonald, chief officer of ELHSCP, and Calum Campbell, chief executive of NHS Lothian, the steering committee outlined its concerns about issues missed by the reopening criteria, including the “need to account for the time it takes to get to Haddington”; “no reference to the high-quality, person-centred care provided for patients at the Edington, particularly at their end of life”; and “the impact on unpaid carers”.

Mr McLennan told the Courier: “I would hope to see progress on the criteria and a detailed response to the detailed issues we raised in our response. We all wish to see the hospital reopen as soon as clinically safe to do so. We will be seeking further discussions with the NHS Lothian chief executive following publication of this week’s review decision.”

Alison Macdonald, ELHSCP chief officer, said “The letter from Hands Around the Edington requires a detailed response which we will provide directly.

“The next review date is Thursday, February 24, at the regular Gold Command meeting which will assess current staffing pressures.

“An update will be issued following that meeting.”