Hundreds of women giving birth at the DGH needed emergency treatment during labour – heightening fears among campaigners that a move towards a single site maternity unit in Hastings would put lives at risk.
East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust is due to announce its planned centralisation of three key services at either the DGH or its sister site in Hastings. At the moment stroke care, general surgery and orthopaedics are earmarked for change but lobbyist Save the DGH believe that were the town to lose any of these units, maternity would not be far behind.
The Trust has long maintained that November 15’s decision will not signal the much-feared domino effect but campaigners remain unconvinced.
And figures obtained by the Herald under the Freedom of Information Act this week go some way to illustrating why so many people believe a single site maternity unit down the coast in Hastings could spell disaster for local mums.
In the last 12 months a total of 568 mums have needed emergency treatment during labour at the DGH – 239 having to have instrumental delivery and another 329 needing caesarian section operations.
Stephen Lloyd, the town’s MP who has long-fought alongside Save the DGH, said the prospect of parents needing to be shipped to Hastings mid-birth did not bear thinking about.
The Lib Dem said, “With a fast growing town, these figures – an average of 10 crisis maternity interventions a week - show how essential it is we retain consultant led maternity at DGH.
“Can you possibly imagine these young mothers having to travel to the Hastings to give birth in such challenging conditions? This underlines how disastrous it would be were Eastbourne to lose its maternity department, which I’m very concerned might be next on the Trust’s hit list, if we do not stop them in their tracks right now.”
And it was a sentiment shared by Langney mum Lora Bishop, who gave birth to her daughter Alana at the DGH earlier this year. Speaking with her own experiences in mind, she said, “Thank heavens my baby was delivered at the DGH, and though we all got a bit of a fright because Alana was born with the cord around her neck, everything went well.
“I cannot imagine how frightened I would have felt if there had been a major problem and I’d have to be rushed to Hastings. We kept a proper maternity unit when we won the last fight [when the unit was threatened with being moved to Hastings in 2006].
“These figures show just how vital it is that we win this time as well.”
Liz Walke, who heads the Save the DGH team, is one of those who firmly believes that if the three services earmarked for centralisation are allowed to go ahead, others will surely follow.
She said, “All the current proposals to single-site will impact consultant-led maternity. Surely these figures justify keeping consultants at the DGH.
“These figures show a high proportion of women needing emergency intervention. Let’s be clear these figures show that 568 women, which is about a quarter of all births at DGH, had emergency intervention by a doctor and these women, while in labour and on very congested roads, would have had to have been transferred to the Conquest or Brighton if the DGH maternity unit was downgraded.
“There would have been tragic consequences with some of those births with the numbers involved.
“Don’t be misled – Maternity IS on the cards when talking about the current proposals. We cannot stand by and let this happen.”
A spokesman for the NHS Trust said, “Maternity was not part of the recent consultation which focused on proposals to significantly improve the quality of the care East Sussex patients receive in stroke care, unplanned orthopaedics and unplanned general surgery.
“The NHS in East Sussex is committed to two thriving major sites at Eastbourne and Hastings. The proposals are not a threat to that ambition they are a means of achieving it. The future of other services is not pre-determined by the proposals we have recently consulted on.
“Eastbourne is a consultant led maternity unit and it is quite normal to expect about a third of all births, in such a unit, to require either an instrumental delivery or caesarean section.”