IN 878 AD, Alfred the Great defeated the Danes at the Battle of Edington in Wiltshire.

Twelve-hundred years later, another battle of that name is raging over NHS Lothian’s “temporary” closure of North Berwick’s much-loved Edington Hospital, ostensibly for three months.

The reason given was staff shortages at Haddington’s East Lothian Community Hospital, while “improving” services by providing physiotherapy.

Eighteen years as local councillor taught me about the black art of cynical bureaucracy, as practised by NHS Lothian.

While their frontline staff are rightly hailed as heroes, administrators in their prestigious Waverley Gate HQ are quite another matter.

As council leader, I once initiated moving Gullane’s Cusworth surgery to its modern premises beside the tennis courts. This, and part of the funding, came from the council. Getting action – especially funding – out of NHS Lothian resembled pulling teeth. They hold “public consultations” but, after ticking that box, input seldom influences original intentions.

The Edington’s case has dragged on over a decade: “re-provision” has long been a topic.

Though never admitted, Haddington’s ‘Community Hospital’ requires Edington’s closure.

Some bean-counter at HQ calculated its nine beds cost £83,000 each year.

The task became how to pull the plug with minimum fuss. An expected normally mild consultation at North Berwick Community Centre turned into an overcrowded rammy.

Last week’s closure seems the latest ploy. The palliative facilities have been partly removed and the well-used minor injuries service limited to adults with appointments in business hours.

Visiting kids who cut their feet on beach glass must bleed their way to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

The good news is locals are up in arms: a 7,000-signature petition; a lawsuit; unanimity of elected members across all parties.

The sad thing is it need not have been like this. The need to integrate health with social care for the elderly is logical, agreed and overdue. But a joint board is all we have.

As both North Berwick Health Centre and Abbey home also need replacement, this is an opportunity for joint provision, giving economy of staff by integration on one site.

Huge community involvement, as displayed by formidable fundraising through Friends of the Edington, or the recuperative powers of local visits by familiar faces, must outweigh bean-counter spreadsheets.

If NHS Lothian would only build on the patient wellbeing and community involvement demonstrated by the Edington, this formula could provide a cost-effective solution for health and elderly care in small towns across the country.