Fears maternity service is again facing the axe

HOSPITAL bosses are threatening to shut down maternity services at Eastbourne DGH after health inspectors slammed staff costs, the Gazette understands.

Expectant Eastbourne mothers might have to hot-foot it to Conquest Hospital in Hastings to give birth if the NHS trust, which runs both hospitals, decides to scrap the DGH’s maternity unit.

The trust is thought to have been told by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) its wage bill is unsustainable because it employs expensive agency staff to man the two hospitals – including maternity services.

Sources close to the board have said the trust has already taken steps, in private, towards trying to dismantle maternity services at either the DGH or Conquest – for the second time.

It is unclear if the drastic measures would be a permanent or temporary solution.

The East Sussex Hospitals Trust has remained tight-lipped over the issue, but it released a statement saying the CQC had discussed maternity services with the trust following its inspection in February.

Chair of the Save the DGH group Liz Walke said the trust is flying in the face of a previous ruling to keep both units open, endorsed by then Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson.

She called for the board’s resignation if it ignores the order.

She said, “If we said there is a problem in elderly care or A&E, would the trust close them down? No. You have got to staff them adequately otherwise they should resign and get a board which will staff it properly.

“The decision was, and is, to keep both units open. They are very clever people and they’ve got to ensure that it’s not an option to close it.

“As far as we’re concerned, we were assured the unit would stay open.

“I’ve been told numerous times it will stay open and that’s come from the very top, the chief executive Darren Grayson.”

In an oral report to the trust last week, health regulators identified staffing problems across both hospitals, according to Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd.

He said, “I would strongly urge the trust not to close our maternity wards, even only for a short period, because we all know how long it can take for expectant mums to get to Conquest in Hastings in an emergency.”

The CQC is reported to have said the trust was not employing enough middle grade doctors and was too reliant on costly agency staff.

A spokesman for the CQC said the finishing touches are being put to the final written report with help from the trust. Mr Lloyd understands the report will be put to the trust’s board later this week but a trust spokesman said it would be published in March.

Robert Williams of the CQC said, “We’re doing a report at the moment and I think we do have some general concerns about staffing and skill mixing.”

But Mrs Walke said staffing difficulties were no excuse to close down a maternity unit.

“You don’t close down a school because you don’t have enough staff, you just get the staff in to man the facility,” she said.

n Campaigners are expected to speak out at an extraordinary meeting at the Conquest today (Wednesday). See Friday’s Eastbourne Herald for the full report.