Maternity services at DGH to be downgraded?

Eastbourne DGH march from Pier to Town Hall.
Eastbourne DGH march from Pier to Town Hall.

Maternity services at Eastbourne DGH look set to be downgraded in around six weeks’ time to cope with staffing shortfalls.

East Sussex NHS Trust issued a statement yesterday lunchtime (March 4) to say there will be a board meeting to discuss the future of obstetric and neonatal services across Eastbourne DGH and the Conquest in Hastings.

The Board will meet on Friday (March 8) at 2.30pm at Manor Barn, 4 De La Warr Road in Bexhill to consider a number of options. However, the preferred option is to maintain a consultant-led obstetric service, neonatal service (including the Special Care Baby Unit), in-patient paediatric service and emergency gynaecology service at Conquest Hospital only and establish a stand alone midwifery-led maternity unit alongside enhanced ambulatory paediatric care at Eastbourne DGH.

The Trust says is 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.

A spoksesperson said, “The Trust is unable to recruit suitable doctors to fill medical posts in these specialities which has meant an over reliance on temporary and agency staff.

“There has been an increasing requirement to take immediate, unplanned action to address staffing shortfalls, thus employing temporary staff at short notice who are unlikely to be familiar with the environment, policy and procedures of the unit and may not operate to the required level of competency.

“Staff with the required competencies are not available 24/7 and providing senior clinical support to junior staff is difficult within the current service configuration.

“Despite the fact that we have put in place multiple measures to address the risks that have been present in these services for some time these measures are becoming both increasingly complex and unsustainable.”

The downgrading of maternity services was fiercely fought by Save the DGH campaigners and they won their battle to retain services at the town’s hospital back in 2008.

Liz Walke, the woman behind the high profile campaign, said she was ‘outraged’ to hear the news.

She said, “I don’t know how they can even think about this. I don’t know what the people of Eastbourne think but I hope they are as outraged as I am.”

She said the distance between the two sites was the biggest problem and added, “They will be sending more women further away and it is not just down the road – it takes an hour or at least 45 minutes.

“Risks outside the hospital will be far greater when they move services to Hastings.”

Liz said she felt expectant mothers thought to be ‘low risk’ and planning to give birth in Eastbourne DGH would be most at risk because any complications would see them being rushed over to Hastings.

She said she would be attending Friday’s meeting and the Save the DGH campaign would be considering its next steps.

She added, “What was all that fighting for back in 2008?”

Darren Grayson, chief executive of the Trust, said, “We all know that it is easy to make changes after an incident has occurred.

“What is more challenging, but is the right thing to do, is to make changes now to ensure the service is as safe as possible to avoid any preventable risk to a mother or her baby.

“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.”

The Trust says the proposal would be a temporary change and added, “There would still need to be a full and open dialogue with the residents of East Sussex on any proposed permanent changes to maternity services in the county.”

Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd said, “I’m very concerned about this latest news from the Trust with regards their proposals around obstetrics From what I understand, there are safety issues at the DGH in child services from September to December last year.

“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?

“We need answers from the chief executive chairman.

“They are saying that the issue in child services is around staff shortages: I’m aware that a number of nurses were away on maternity leave during that period and a number of others were on long term sick.

“Why was there a failure at a senior level at the DGH to be insufficiently prepared to provide the right cover in this area?

“I and the town need these questions answered.”

Polegate and Seaford MP Norman Baker said, “I warned this might happen and was told there was no basis to what I had said.

“This is a further unwelcome cut and confirms my view that a two tier health service in East Sussex is being created with Hastings and Brighton in Tier 1 and Eastbourne serving my constituents in Polegate and Seaford in tier two.

“I’m beginning to doubt whether we can trust assurances we continually get from DGH management about the future of health services in our area.”