HOSPITAL chiefs have finally admitted maternity services are under threat after claiming its current facilities are unsustainable and even unsafe.
Despite rubbishing media speculation that a maternity unit in Eastbourne and Hastings would close, managers have ordered a four-month independent review and say they are keeping an open mind on any changes.
Campaigners against maternity closures are baffled by the announcement, saying a 2008 review by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) found it was safer for expectant mothers if both units at Eastbourne DGH and Conquest stayed open.
Chief executive of the NHS Trust, which runs the two hospitals, Darren Grayson, said, “Despite the investment of considerable time and effort as well as additional funding in the Maternity Strategy put in place to deliver the IRP recommendation, we continue to experience challenges in providing maternity services in the current model.
“We are clear that without some degree of change the service will not be sustainable and that unacceptable risks to safety may materialise and we can not allow this to happen.
“The Trust board remains open-minded to the best and safest way of ensuring we can continue to provide high quality care for mothers and babies.
“But it is clear we cannot carry on as we are in the long term.”
Chair of the Save the DGH Campaign Liz Walke said while she accepted services are unsustainable in their present form, hospital staff should be working towards the conclusions of the 2008 IRP ruling.
She suggested clinicians at both hospitals had conspired against it. Mrs Walke said, “We believe the IRP ruling to be binding and what’s new since 2008.
“A full independent inquiry was set up to look into consultant-led maternity at the Trust and it concluded that it was safer to keep both units open.
“Why have another inquiry? What has changed?”
Marie Grant, a former midwife and deputy chief executive at St George’s Hospital London, will conduct the review, which will also include neonatology, paediatrics and emergency gynaecology services.
East Sussex Healthcare Trust, which runs the two hospitals, said it will consult outside maternity specialists and hold meetings for the public to have their say.
Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd, who accused senior doctors and managers of trying to bring down maternity services from within in the House of Commons, said, “I will be watching extremely closely and liaising with everyone involved with this review.
“Come what may we must retain a full and comprehensive maternity services in Eastbourne and Hastings.”
A spokesperson for the Care Quality Commission, whose February visit sparked initial closure fears, said the CQC report – which highlighted staffing problems and safety issues on maternity wards and the A&E departments – is due late this week or early next week.