EAST Lothian’s largest hospital is facing a “staffing crisis”, according to the chairman of a group calling for the reopening of another health facility.

Staff at the Edington Hospital in North Berwick were moved to the East Lothian Community Hospital in Haddington in September last year.

Health chiefs said that the switch was to consolidate staffing ahead of what they predicted would be a difficult winter due to Covid-19.

More than six months later, the Edington is yet to reopen, with the latest review of its status at the end of last month confirming it would stay closed for now.

East Lothian Courier:

The Edington Hospital is currently closed

Murray Duncanson, chair of the Friends of Edington, claimed that wards had been closed at the Haddington hospital as a result of staffing issues – however, this has been denied.

He said: “The staffing crisis at East Lothian Community Hospital has intensified since January and, with wards being closed at the hospital as a result, it is hampering any chance of the Edington reopening.

“It is deeply troubling to hear they have been unable to find nurses to fill the huge number of vacancies that are now available, nor to hear that as quickly as they are recruiting, nurses are moving on.

“We appreciate that the pandemic continues to impact on staff absences but we do not feel reassured that adequate and innovative measures are being taken to hire nursing staff.”

The £70 million East Lothian Community Hospital officially opened in October 2020.

Services on offer include physiotherapy, occupational therapy and minor procedures. However, the hospital is not home to either an accident and emergency department or a minor injuries unit.

'No wards have been closed'

Alison Macdonald, chief officer of East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership (ELHSCP), said: “ELHSCP and NHS Lothian are exploring all avenues to improve recruitment and retention and are actively promoting vacancies.

“As well as this, we’re up-skilling current staff, investing in training, looking at new ways to deploy associate nurse practitioners and reviewing shift patterns.

“Staff have been temporarily consolidated at East Lothian Community Hospital (ELCH), which means we can keep more beds open overall, as it allows more flexibility in how we deploy staff day-to-day.

“No wards have been closed at ELCH.

“Two wards have been reduced by four beds each to ensure staffing levels are appropriate and safe.

“These clinical judgements are ongoing daily and are made by senior teams within the hospital, supported by management.”

The maximum bed capacity for the two wards is 44 but that number is not fixed and varies – as it does in all hospitals.

At least 35 new members of staff have started at the hospital since September. There are currently 30 vacancies, which reflects wider staffing pressures across the NHS.

'Not a true reflection'

According to a spokeswoman for NHS Lothian, the current vacancy number is not a true reflection of empty posts, as “every endeavour” is made to supplement it with bank staff and agency staff, as well as offering extra hours and overtime to current staff.

The spokeswoman stressed that a net gain of 10 beds had been achieved by temporarily transferring staff to ELCH.

She added: “We would also add that this has taken place as a result of an unprecedented staffing crisis, directly linked to the pandemic, and it is being felt across the whole of the UK.

“Sadly, East Lothian is not immune to those pressures and we ask for public understanding at this time.”

Kenny MacAskill, East Lothian MP, described the staffing situation as “deeply concerning”.

'Must be a priority'

The politician, who today (Thursday) is due to meet people involved with the campaign to see the Edington reopened, said: “There are staffing issues across many sectors and retention is an issue.

“But addressing this must be a priority for the health board.

“Its absence is being felt, the need for it growing and its remaining closed a continuous threat.”

But Paul McLennan, East Lothian’s MSP, painted a rosier picture.

He told the Courier that, according to Health Secretary Humza Yousaf MSP, staffing in Scotland’s NHS had “risen to record highs”.

He added: “Speaking with Alison Macdonald, I am content that NHS Lothian are exploring every avenue and have been promoting vacancies proactively.

“These are clinical judgements that are made on a daily basis by senior teams within the hospital, supported by management.”

Keen for improvements

But South Scotland MSPs Craig Hoy and Martin Whitfield were keen to see improvements made.

Mr Hoy said: “Unfortunately, new statistics on NHS staff shortages mean that we are effectively no further forward in seeing the Edington reopen its doors anytime soon.

“Staff vacancies have only got worse since the Edington was closed seven months ago.”

Mr Whitfield added: “The closure of the Edington is part of wider staffing and funding issues in NHS Lothian. The fact that these problems appear to be getting worse is clearly cause for concern.”