A highly respected medical expert, who approved the continuation of two consultant-led maternity units in towns smaller than Eastbourne and Hastings, has briefed the Save the DGH campaigners on his decision.
As chairman of the Independent Review Group for North Cumbria Maternity Services, Dr Bill Kirkup supported the maintenance of two consultant-led maternity units in Whitehaven and Carlisle.
Eastbourne DGH has a midwife-only led unit and the Conquest in Hastings has consultant-led facilities.
Dr Kirkup helped the Save the DGH group explore the relevance to East Sussex of the North Cumbria decision to maintain the consultant-led maternity units with fewer births than in East Sussex.
Whitehaven annual births are 1,300 and Carlisle are 1,700.
His report said, “Some of the work undertaken in North Cumbria would be relevant to national policy on staffing, training, recruitment and other issues which affect service sustainability. Central NHS organisations have been slow to recognise that policies that fit well in metropolitan areas may not transfer elsewhere, and that resource and staffing may be different.”
After the meeting, Liz Walke, chair of the Save the DGH campaign group, said, “Why, if it can be achieved in Cumbria, can it not be achieved in East Sussex? This flies in the face of the notion that you need a minimum of 2,500 births to have a safe and sustainable service”
“Our hospitals in Eastbourne and Hastings each have natural catchment areas for around 2,000 births annually, far higher figures than Whitehaven and Carlisle. Both regions are rural coastal communities, with bad road infrastructures leading to unacceptable journey times.”
Liz said a comprehensive study in the Netherlands concluded that journey times above 20 minutes for a mother in labour increases risk.
East Sussex had an Independent Review Panel (IRP) report in which the recommendations were accepted by the Secretary of State for Health in 2008 to retain consultant-led maternity services on two sites.
In Cumbria an IRP report recommended an independent review group consider three options. These included retaining consultant-led maternity on two sites, which was not an option provided by the clinical commissioning groups in
In East Sussex, management teams at both East Sussex Hospital Trust and the local care commissioning froup, which have since been changed, used safety concerns to over-ride the recommendation. This resulted in midwife-led only services at Eastbourne DGH and consultant-led at the Conquest.
Liz Walke said, “Sadly and perversely, it has recently come to light that negligence at the Conquest around the time of this change has resulted in a £25 million settlement.”
Eastbourne borough councillor Robert Smart invited Dr Bill Kirkup to Eastbourne.
Cllr Smart said, “It is a pleasure to read a report that demonstrates the local health authorities innovatively responding to the wishes of the population and positively addressing the inevitable staffing challenges.”