Maternity services at Eastbourne’s District General Hospital need to be promoted better, according to doctors.
The decision to downgrade the unit in the town with a consultant-led service provided at the Conquest Hospital in Hastings proved hugely controversial with residents when it was taken back in 2014.
A report detailing recent improvements to maternity services at the two hospitals, which are both run by the East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust (ESHT) was discussed by the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee last Thursday.
Although the trust’s report was around its quality improvement plan following an inspection by health regulators the Care Quality Commission, many comments focused on the previous decision to downgrade maternity services at the DGH.
East Sussex county councillor Angharad Davies said, “I do not think these old arguments should be brought back time and time again.
“It’s absolutely pointless. We need to be talking about the future of maternity services and how well they are doing and how the CQC criticisms have been addressed. That’s what’s important.”
Earlier in the meeting she also raised concerns that not enough babies were being born at Eastbourne, with only just 300 delivered a year.
Adrian Bull, chief executive of ESHT, suggested that because of the ‘furore’ around the transfer of services to Hastings, the promotion of the midwife-led unit at Eastbourne was not as good as it could be.
Dr Bull explained, “A number of mothers assume they are going to give birth in Hastings, but they would be suitable for the maternity-led unit, but it does not have the profile it should have.”
A number of questions revolved around the number of women in labour transferred from Eastbourne to Hastings.
In 2015/16, of the 320 women who started giving birth at Eastbourne, 62 were transferred to Hastings, and only 10 of these were in the second stage of pregnancy.
Dr Bull explained that for first-time mothers there was a ‘reasonable chance’ they would be transferred to Hastings, for example if they wanted an epidural.
Catherine O’Callaghan, service manager for maternity at ESHT, told the committee that her staff based the need to transfer on thorough clinical assessments of patients and ‘good decision making’, and in some cases this was in the second stage of labour.
Dr Bull added, “These are not last minute dashes at the point of emergency.”
Some of the successes at ESHT included their most recent student midwife cohort staying on in full-time employment at the end of their training, which Dr Bull took as a ‘real vote of confidence in our training and quality of experience’.
Eastbourne borough councillor Janet Coles asked if a large number of houses planned for the town and the surrounding area would mean a return of consultant-led services to the DGH.
Amanda Philpott, chief officer for the Eastbourne, Hailsham, and Seaford Clinical Commissioning Group, said, “At the current time I can’t see the movement of services decisions being reversed, but it’s our job to commission safe and high quality services and we will always keep it under review.”
Cllr Coles’ point was echoed by borough and county councillor Alan Shuttleworth, who explained that much of the concern expressed by Eastbourne residents previously ‘has not gone away’.
He added, “What I want to see is a gold standard for maternity services in both Eastbourne and Hastings.”
For more information visit www.esht.nhs.uk/maternity/emu
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