Scotland politics

Sturgeon denies lying over Royal Alexandra children's ward

nicola sturgeon

Scotland's first minister has denied lying to parents over the future of a children's ward in Paisley.

Nicola Sturgeon told a BBC TV debate days ahead of the Holyrood election in 2016 that there were "no proposals" to shut the Royal Alexandra Hospital ward.

The Scottish government announced last Friday that it had approved plans to move the ward to Glasgow.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that the closure proposals were not made until a year after the debate.

But the audience member who asked her about the ward in the debate, Gordon Clark, said he was "absolutely furious at the first minister lying to me".

Mr Clark, who was at the Scottish Parliament to hear Ms Sturgeon speak, said he had asked the first minister about the ward two years ago because he knew closure was "on the cards".

He claimed it was therefore "total nonsense" for the government to now say "they didn't know anything about it" at the time.

The Scottish government announced the children's ward closure in a press release sent to journalists shortly after 15:00 on Friday afternoon.

It will see children's in-patient and day care services moving from the Royal Alexandra to Glasgow's Royal Hospital for Children.

Health Secretary Shona Robison told the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday that the decision had been one of the hardest she has had to make, but that there was "overwhelming clinical support" for the move from medical staff at the two hospitals.

However, the announcement was met with anger by campaigners against the closure, who accused the government of a betrayal.

Image caption The future of the children's ward was raised during a BBC debate days before the last Holyrood election in 2016

They pointed to the comments made by Ms Sturgeon in the televised debate in 2016, when she told Mr Clark: "I absolutely give a commitment that we will keep services as local as they need to be.

"There's no proposals to close the particular ward. I believe in local services with access for local people, and I have got the record to prove that is what I believe in."

Analysis by Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland political editor

Before the vote tonight - when repeal for the Football Act was backed - the presiding officer addressed the subject of language. Not in the stands, but at Holyrood.

He made plain that he was decidedly unhappy with the exchange during FMQs - and that words like "liar" should not be used.

However, he added that he did not want to become a linguistic referee. He hoped, instead, members would behave, voluntarily.

Read more from Brian

Ms Sturgeon's answer was highlighted by opposition politicians at Holyrood on Thursday, with Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie joining Mr Clark in openly accusing Ms Sturgeon of lying during the TV debate.

Mr Rennie said: "Doctors may have advised her to close the children's ward at Paisley but they did not force her to lie in that election TV debate.

"Is she not ashamed of blaming the doctors for her broken promise?"

Image copyright Google
Image caption The changes will see Ward 15 at the Royal Alexandra close and move to the Royal Children's Hospital in Glasgow

Amid angry scenes in the chamber, Ms Sturgeon responded by describing Mr Rennie a "pathetic attention seeker", and said the proposal to close the ward had not yet been made at the time of the television debate.

She said: "I am sorry if it upsets Willie Rennie but I am not prepared to apologise for listening to the doctors who know best about how to treat sick children in this country.

"There was, at the time of that debate, no proposal on the ward. There had been no clinical evidence presented. That changed in the months that followed."

Ms Sturgeon and Mr Rennie were both rebuked by the presiding officer for their language, and told to "treat each other with respect".

Image caption The decision to close the ward was raised at first minister's questions by both Richard Leonard and Willie Rennie

The first minister also faced questions on the ward closure from Labour leader Richard Leonard, who said Mr Clark was in the parliament's public gallery and urged Ms Sturgeon to apologise to him.

He said: "On 1 May 2016 the first minister told Gordon Clark on national television there were no proposals to close the children's ward at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley.

"Now less than two years later her government is closing the children's ward down."

'Bury bad news'

Mr Leonard said the issue was about the first minister's integrity, and said people "feel betrayed".

He added: "Campaigners were accused of lying, SNP politicians were more interested in saving the local McDonald's than saving the local children's ward.

"And when a decision was finally made, it was sneaked out on a Friday afternoon - this government tried to bury bad news in the middle of a snowstorm".

Ms Sturgeon said Labour had claimed immediately after the debate that she had "refused to give a guarantee" to protect the children's ward, but now appeared to have changed their position.

She also highlighted comments by a consultant paediatrician, who said the Royal Hospital for Children had intensive care units and specialist surgical facilities that were not available at the Royal Alexandra children's ward.

She added: "As this matter moves forward the interests and health of children will be paramount at all times."

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