The temporary closure of St Michael’s Hospital in Linlithgow has been extended to the end of November, West Lothian Integrated Joint Board has agreed.
And a decision on re-opening might not be taken before January.
The board - which oversees jointly managed health and social care provision between West Lothian Council and NHS Lothian - also agreed that no final decision on when to re-open should be taken without full consultation with staff and families affected.
Patients were moved from St Michael’s to Tippethill Hospital in Armadale in early August because of staff shortages.
In a report to the IJB this week Head of Health, Fiona Wilson said the ongoing temporary closure reflected “the challenging, deteriorating staffing position that remains unchanged.”
She asked that a decision not be taken before the end of November to allow completion of a study “to determine current and future community bed base need.”
Results from that study she said would help inform the board as to the future demand and influence a decision on what is a quickly changing situation given staff sickness rates.
The report highlighted: “The staffing levels across the system remain critical, due to high absences of staff with covid symptoms or C-19 exposure; this is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.”
Councillor Damian Doran-Timson asked: “Is the intention to re-open once staffing levels get back to where they were?”
Fiona Wilson said: “There’s not a fixed determination that we are going to close St Michael’s.”
She added that there needed to be more understanding that health care provision in West Lothian was getting its model right for the local demand.
The IJB next meets on 9 January, and after that, on 13 January.
Chairman Bill McQueen said: “Would you want to reopen between November and Christmas or would it make sense to wait until January?"
Councillor Harry Cartmill said: “It’s a question about communications. If we are now saying that it’s not going to open until January I would be afraid that might cause some alarm in the community. How are we going to get that message out so that there is no potential for a campaign to be started or some bad feeling in the community?”
Board officers reiterated that they have maintained close contacts with hospital staff and the community, including the Friends of St Michael’s group.
The board’s chief officer, Alison White, said the feeling that had come across from community discussions around the temporary closure was much more about the loss of service for the wider West Lothian community.
There was general agreement for as much communication as possible with staff and the wider community.
The board agreed to “take stock of the advice” from officers when it meets in November and proceed on the basis of what it learns.
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