A CHILDREN'S unit at St John's Hospital in Livingston is to close for the second time in a week due to staff shortages.

The paediatric short-stay assessment unit will be closed on Saturday December 9, but is expected to reopen on Sunday. It was also closed on Sunday December 3.

NHS Lothian said the decision was taken as a result of ongoing staffing and recruitment issues which mean there are not enough doctors available to cover overnight and weekends. The situation has been exacerbated after a clinician scheduled to work on Saturday became unavailable.

NHS Lothian said parents worried about a child on Saturday should call NHS 24 on 111 for advice.

Children will still be assessed and treated in A&E at St John's Hospital and a paediatric consultant will be available on call 24/7.

If a child needs to be admitted to hospital, a transfer to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh will be arranged.

Jacquie Campbell, Chief Officer of Acute Services at NHS Lothian, said: "The safety of our patients must be our top priority and for that reason the unit will not open on Saturday.

“Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to reliably secure the levels of staffing required on Saturday to guarantee a safe service. This is the safest option for the children of West Lothian and normal service will resume on Sunday.”

It comes after the hospital's children's ward was closed to inpatients in July because there were too few paediatric consultants to safely provide round-the-clock care. Children from West Lothian who need to stay in hospital overnight have been sent to the RHSC instead.

The measure was originally intended as a temporarily measure over the summer, but an ongoing shortage of consultants means the ward has remained closed to inpatients.

NHS Lothian said parents worried about a child on Saturday should call NHS 24 on 111.