Herald Opinion: Eastbourne’s maternity unit must not close

This week’s top story,“Maternity Unit Under Threat”, will send a shiver down the spine of Eastbourne readers.

Campaigners who had fought so ferociously five years ago against the closure of the DGH maternity unit had never since rested easily in their beds. And now their worst nightmare looks likely to return.

For Eastbourne, it seems, more than Hastings, the horrrifying prospect is that we are again threatened with the loss of the town’s treasured maternity and special care baby units.

And all this barely five years since an independent panel ruled that both towns’ maternity units should stay open, insisting that the 21-mile journey between hospitals would “seriously compromise” care.

But as the Save The DGH Campaign protestors are asking, so what has changed? Certainly not the road network. The A259 is as tortuous a road as ever - evidenced in the nose-to-tail traffic on a number of this past winter’s iciest days.

Certainly not the birth rate. The hospitals are busier than ever with more than 2,000 births a year at the DGH. And certainly not a shrinking population. Eastbourne is the fastest growing town in East Sussex.

What is different is the pressure on the public purse along with additional bureaucracy within the NHS. However much we are told that health spending is ring-fenced, the reality is very different. And the Care Quality Commission report will of course have identified shortcomings in the DGH - if nothing else, to justify its existence.

First we hear that the hospital’s special care baby unit has been temporarily closed. Then we see the trust saying that no decision has been made, but then tellingly refusing to dismiss rumours that could have nipped this story in the bud days earlier.

And then the unedifying spectacle of campaigners being publicly rapped on the knuckles for daring to share their fears with the media.It feels as though we are in a time warp. As if the events of four years ago are unfolding again before our eyes.

Now, as then, the Herald will throw its full weight behind the protestors. The maternity unit must not close. There must be no price put on a baby’s life.