Herald Opinion: Maternity care has always been about so much more than balancing the books

IT SEEMS the worst fears of DGH campaigners were justified - major changes are again being proposed by NHS managers.

Last week the chief executive of the Trust which runs the hospital has admitted he is “pessimistic” about keeping full maternity services at both the DGH and the Conquest in Hastings.

Darren Grayson told a regional health watchdog the Trust is struggling to find enough staff for the obstetric departments at the the two hospitals.

He said this is affecting the level of care at the hospitals and is putting patients at risk, a view shared by the Care Quality Commission which has reported the low staff levels have resulted in poor quality care.

The Commission has given the Trust one month to take action and Mr Grayson implied patient service would be vastly improved if a larger consultant-led unit was based at one site.

In economic terms Mr Grayson’s argument appears sound, and the Trust has done a good job to stabilise finances at the hospital, but the issue of maternity care has always been about so much more than balancing the books.

A centralised obstetric department would provide a cost-effective solution to the staffing problem, but what about the human cost?

When the Trust put forward a similar proposal in 2006, the main criticism was the distance between the two hospitals and the hazardous journey faced by women experiencing difficulties during labour.

Put simply, nothing has changed. The Conquest is still 20 miles away from the DGH and transport links between the hospitals haven’t improved one jot.

The account of Herald’s chief reporter Annemarie Field’s dramatic childbirth (read her column in the Comment section located in the News menu above) underlines the importance of keeping the services local and providing reassurance for provides expectant mums.

Campaigners argue the Trust should spend more money on staffing and change working patterns at both hospitals.

It’s an unquestionably complex problem but the hope remains the Trust can improve care without having to resort to reducing services at the DGH or the Conquest.