The small team of "clinical perfusionists", who ensure patients get enough oxygen during high-risk procedures, have told bosses at NHS Lothian they will not work out-of-hours shifts in protest at long-term staff shortages. The perfusionists, who recently negotiated a 20% pay rise, have planned the action for the weekend starting on Friday, April 26, meaning critically ill patients will have to be transferred from Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary to Glasgow for surgery.
Heart attack and chest trauma patients are among those affected.
Dr David Farquharson, NHS Lothian's medical director, said: "NHS Lothian are working around the clock to ensure we are able to provide on-call cover within the cardiac perfusion team over the weekend of April 26."
A senior medical source at the board said patients' lives would be put at risk if they were not operated on within the vital first "golden hour" after the point of trauma.
A source close to the perfusionists' team said they were tired of covering the "brutal" on-call rota and said one staff member could end up providing cover for seven days in a row.
Dr Farquharson said: "We are currently recruiting for positions within the perfusion team but have so far been unsuccessful."
Tom Waterson, Unison branch chairman, said he was extremely disappointed by the move by the perfusionists.