‘Never say never’ on return of full maternity services to Eastbourne

Maternity services in East Sussex were debated by county councillors last week

Maternity services in East Sussex were debated by county councillors last week

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Bosses running Eastbourne’s hospital are ‘not actively considering’ bringing full maternity services back to the town, but told councillors ‘never say never’.

The decision to downgrade Direct General Hospital’s maternity ward with specialist services including consultant-led obstetric services operated from the Conquest Hospital in Hastings proved hugely controversial.

Last week members of East Sussex’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee received an update on East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust’s quality improvement plan.

This is after the ESHT, which runs both Eastbourne DGH and Conquest Hospital, was rated ‘inadequate’ by health regulators the Care Quality Commission, and was placed in special measures.

During Thursday’s meeting Janet Coles, an Eastbourne borough councillor, welcomed the investment in Eastbourne’s maternity unit and asked if in the near or medium-term future they might see the return of full consultant-led services back to the town.

Adrian Bull, chief executive at ESHT, replied: “This [investment] has no bearing on the issue of consultant-led services at Eastbourne.

“As you know the services in Eastbourne there are consultant outpatient services in Eastbourne for obstetrics and a full midwife-led unit.

“We are not actively considering at present planning to bring obstetrics-led services back to Eastbourne.

As I have said to other interested parties I would never say never about anything and I would need to continue to listen to and understand the concerns and preferences of the population that we serve.

“I think we do need to produce that report about where services currently are and we need to continue that conversation.”

This was in reference to points made by Alan Shuttleworth, a borough and county councillor, who thought that one of the key issues in the CQC’s report was a lack of public engagement by the trust.

He said: “Within Eastbourne there was, during the last regime the discredited regime at ESHT, a great deal of distrust and a loss of confidence in the way in which ESHT was managed and particularly the maternity reconfiguration issue.”

He argued there was a residual need to give the public information on the maternity situation as there were still ‘significant transport issues and significant concerns’.

Mr Shuttleworth added: “This strategic issue has not gone away, it has not gone away in Eastbourne.”

Dr Bull updated members on the project to move patient medical records to a central records store in Apex Way in Hailsham, with a formal opening due this week.

This project was criticised by unions when it was unveiled last year but Dr Bull explained that the proposals had followed extensive consultation with the affected members of staff.

He also explained that the front entrances of both Eastbourne DGH and Conquest Hospital were due to be completely reshaped to make them more welcoming and pleasant for patients.

Addressing the wider issues of improving the trust’s performance, Dr Bull thought that the morale of staff was a ‘mixed picture’ and added: “We are not providing perfect care across the board.”

He continued: “In an organisation which has gone through a significantly challenging period and a lot of people have their heads down and feeling sorry for themselves what we must avoid is a self reinforcing cycle of bad news.”

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