A former DGH consultant has said changes to maternity services at the hospital will lead to a ‘risk of fatalities’.
Vincent Argent, who was a consultant obstetrician gynaecologist at the hospital for 19 years, spoke to the Gazette and said that a poll he had carried out showed female doctors would not choose to have their baby in a freestanding midwifery-led unit.
Mr Argent, who has worked as a clinical advisor to the Save The DGH group, said, “There’s a risk of fatalities, sudden unexpected complications and adverse outcomes.
“Having a centralised unit in Hastings would be better for some but worse for others. There will be risks.
“If you are a low risk woman and experience complications but were expecting a normal birth - say you have a major haemorrhage and something bad happens - you would be thinking what if I had chosen a consultant-led unit and you will regret that for the rest of your life.
“It’s a ‘what if’ scenario and it’s a question of balancing the risk between the two.”
The 65-year-old said a survey on Doctors.net led to interesting results, adding, “I would strongly emphasise that the latest research suggests that no female doctors or female partners of doctors would choose to have their baby in a freestanding midwifery-led unit ( FMU ) such as is proposed for Eastbourne.
“They think that the risk is unacceptable.”
Mr Argent also said the total transfer time of patients travelling 21 miles to Hastings would take more than an hour, adding, “There’s no doubt some of the centralisation will be beneficial for patients. It’s quite clear that if you live in Hastings that you will have a better unit but if you live in Eastbourne you will be disadvantaged. It’s going to be better for Hastings women but worse for Eastbourne woman.
“The trust is saying that free standing midwifery led unit is OK for low-risk women and that high-risk women will go to Hastings. There could be a cohort of low-risk women in Hastings that should be coming to Eastbourne but most of them will choose Hastings.”
East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust said that it had been advised by doctors, midwives and nurses - together with the National Clinical Advisory Team - that the current maternity and paediatric services in East Sussex cannot continue as they are at present.
The trust says the changes are temporary and that any permanent changes to the service would be subject to a full public consultation within the next 18 months.
But Mr Argent believes the changes will become permanent because of the cost and the time to transfer the services to one site.
He said to allay residents’ fears there were several things that could happen, including an exit road at the back of the DGH to help get the ambulance on the road more quickly and a fully qualified obstetrician to be in an ambulance waiting and ready to go with a transfer at any time, night or day.
Mr Argent added, “It just takes one disaster. If there’s a really bad adverse outcome and they have a baby that dies, is brain-damaged or the mother was to die, that would immediately scupper the unit and the trust would have to react to that.”
A spokesperson for East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust said, “In recommending that the Trust makes a temporary change to maternity services, clinicians both within the trust and externally have taken into account the extensive evidence base on safety in maternity services, including information on the safety of midwifery units published in the Birthplace Study in 2011.
“This study of around 80,000 births is the largest study of its type ever undertaken in the UK. It found that for planned births in freestanding midwifery units there were no significant differences in adverse perinatal outcomes compared with planned birth in an obstetric (consultant-led) unit.
“A midwifery led unit offers a comfortable, relaxed and low-tech environment for birth. Some women prefer this approach to birth and our experiences of providing a midwifery-led unit in Crowborough demonstrates that some women are prepared to travel a significant distance to access this type of care and speak very highly about their experiences there.
“Hundreds of women give birth in this type of unit every year and the Birthplace Study showed that women who planned birth in a midwifery unit had significantly fewer interventions including substantially fewer intrapartum Caesarean sections, and more ‘normal births’ than women who planned birth in an obstetric unit.
“South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAMB) has been involved in the discussions around the changes and has given its assurance that it has adequate resources to ensure they can provide the support required to the midwifery led unit as it currently does at similar units such as Crowborough Birthing Centre and Maidstone Hospital.
“Any woman and/or baby needing to transfer to an acute unit would be accompanied in the ambulance by a midwife.
“Ambulance staff are trained and would be able to support the midwife during the transfer.”
• Ambulanceman speaks out - see page seven