Outrage over plan to downgrade maternity unit

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Save the DGH campaigner Liz Walke says she is ‘outraged’ by the proposals to temporarily downgrade maternity services at the Eastbourne hospital.

The hospital said on Monday (March 4) that it planned to leave the DGH with a stand alone midwifery-led maternity unit alongside enhanced ambulatory paediatric care, with other services such as neonatal service and a consultant-led obstetric service based at the Conquest in Hastings.

The changes could come about in around six weeks’ time to cope with staffing shortfalls – and will be discussed at a board meeting today (Friday) in Bexhill.

It is not the first time maternity services at the DGH have been under threat. The downgrading of maternity services was fiercely fought by Save the DGH campaigners and they won their battle to retain services at the DGH five years ago.

Mrs Walke said, “I think we will be following up the decision which was made in 2008. How come the Secretary of State can say then it was unsafe to downgrade the unit and five years later we’re in the same place? The road hasn’t changed much apart from it’s a bit more congested.

“The trust has not looked at alternate options for staffing. It was told to keep the units [maternity at Hastings and Eastbourne] adequately staffed and they haven’t done that.

“I think midwives are leaving in their droves because they are under so much pressure and don’t have the support they need.”

East Sussex NHS Trust says it has been advised by doctors, midwives and nurses, together with the National Clinical Advisory Team (NCAT), that the current maternity and paediatric services in East Sussex cannot continue as they are at present.

The trust says the proposal would be a temporary change but Mrs Walke added, “This has been on the cards from the trust’s point of view we think since 2006.

“They are absolutely hell-bent on doing what they intend to do.

“It’s the low-’risk mothers most at risk, they won’t have the back-up and we are extremely worried, we think it’s a dangerous situation.

“They say it’s only temporary but in the papers it says temporary changes until permanent changes can be found. It doesn’t mention when consultant-led maternity will be back in Eastbourne. How temporary is temporary? Welcome to the domino effect which they denied.

“I hope to ask at the meeting assurance from the trust as to when it will be back to fully operational as a full maternity unit at Eastbourne DGH.

“This happened at another hospital in Canterbury and it wasn’t open for long because mothers didn’t feel safe there.”

Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd said he was ‘very concerned’ about the latest news, adding, “Why wasn’t I informed? Why wasn’t it on the agenda at HOSC when the whole issue of core services was being discussed and ultimately voted on?”

Polegate and Seaford MP Norman Baker said, “This is a further unwelcome cut and confirms my view that a two tier health service is being created with Hastings and Brighton in tier one and Eastbourne serving my constituents in Polegate and Seaford in tier two.”

Earlier this week Darren Grayson, chief executive of the trust, said, “As the accountable officer I have ultimate responsibility for safety in this organisation and I have to listen and take action when senior doctors, midwifery staff and external agencies tell me it is not sustainable on safety grounds to continue as we are.”

A spokesman for East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust added, “All of this has to be put in context in that Midwifery Led Units (MLUs) are safe for low risk women to give birth. Women may however wish to deliver in a consultant unit despite being low risk and this is their choice.

“If a woman is low risk and chooses birth in the MLU, then the woman would be transferred to the consultant unit if any concerns during labour arose. This is the philosophy within a MLU and based on our experience at Crowborough Birthing Centre and nationally published data is safe and works well.

“If a low risk woman delivers at the MLU and a complication arose after birth, then the woman would need to be transferred to the consultant unit. Midwives are trained to manage postpartum haemorrhage but transfer would still be necessary.

“We anticipate it’s going to take between six to eight weeks before these changes can come into play.

“Anyone giving birth before that period would come to the hospital they would normally go to.”

* The board will meet today (Friday) to consider a number of options at 2.30pm at Manor Barn, 4 De La Warr Road in Bexhill.