NHS bosses have voted unanimously to centralise consultant-led maternity services at the Conquest Hospital in Hastings within weeks.
The move has sparked fury from campaigners from both the Hands off the Conquest and Save the DGH groups.
Clinicians and managers from East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs both the Conquest and Eastbourne’s DGH, met at the Manor Barn in Bexhill on Friday March 8 and, after a three-hour meeting, decided to go-ahead with the controversial proposal to base consultant-led maternity at the hospital on The Ridge, while turning the DGH’s maternity unit into one led by midwives.
This means women needing emergency Caesareans and suffering from other complications during labour would have to travel almost 20 miles to the Conquest.
Some members of the public vented their anger, accusing the hospital trust of already making up its mind prior to today’s meeting.
Trust board members said the move is only temporary and will last up to 18 months. They also assured the public that any permanent changes would have to go to full public consultation.
Campaigners from Hands off the Conquest and Save the DGH are furious as both groups fought against similar proposals in 2008 when the then Secretary of State overruled NHS managers’ plans. Both groups want to see the Conquest and DGH keep all of their emergency services intact.
Liz Walke, chairman of Save the DGH, said many people had wanted to attend today’s meeting but could not due to the ‘sheer stress’ the unpopular proposal had caused.
After the meeting she said: “It was all predetermined. We are very disappointed and absolutely outraged. You could feel all of the pain from those in the audience and you could see the robots across the room (managers). It’s a terrible day.
“We will be definitely be looking at calling this organisation into account. We owe it to the people.
“Neither the Conquest nor the DGH maternity units will be able to cope with the changes. Staff will be running between the two units. It will be a complete mess.”
Margaret Williams, chairman of Hands off the Conquest, was also equally angry.
Following today’s decision she said: “The only thing that has changed since 2008 is that the road between Hastings and Eastbourne has got busier and more babies are being born. To single site maternity is morally wrong for the residents of East Sussex. Why should one side of the patch benefit to the detriment of the other?”
The maternity unit at Eastbourne is used by around 2,000 women a year.
Between 1,200 and 1,300 of these will now have to travel to the Conquest, while between 500 and 600 will use the midwife-led unit.
The other four options the trust discussed today were to keep things as they are at both hospitals, employ additional consultants in obstetrics (emergency births), paediatrics and extra midwives, set up an out-of-hours divert from one site to the other and increase consultant cover in the evenings for obstetrics.
Today’s decision means that consultant-led obstetric services, neonatal (including the Special Care Baby Unit), in-patient paediatric and emergency gynaecology services will be based at the Conquest within six to eight weeks. The DGH will have a stand alone midwifery-led maternity unit alongside enhanced ambulatory paediatric care.
The trust said arrangements are being made to contact all pregnant women currently booked to give birth so they can discuss how these plans may affect them
Darren Grayson, trust chief executive, said: “We have a duty to make sure our obstetric and neonatal services are as safe as possible and meet national guidelines. Our doctors, midwives and nurses, together with the National Clinical Advisory Team (NCAT) have advised us that the current maternity and paediatric services in East Sussex cannot continue as they are at present and that urgent action is required. Despite considerable effort over a long period of time we have not been able to recruit suitable doctors to fill essential posts in these specialities. This means we are over reliant on temporary and agency staff and the measures we have put in place to ensure the units are safe have become increasingly complex and unsustainable.
“We have listened to our doctors, midwives, nurses and external bodies like the National Clinical Advisory Team and taken action to ensure the service we provide is as safe as possible and to avoid any preventable risk to a mother or her baby. It is clear that external and internal clinicians are saying that it will be safer to temporarily locate consultant-led obstetrics, neonatal, in-patient paediatric and emergency gynaecology services on one site. It would be unacceptable for the trust to deliver a service that was at risk of not meeting standards when there is something safer that we can do.”
Lindsey Stevens, head of midwifery, said: “As a midwife I would like to assure all women that we are passionate about providing the best care we can. These changes are not being made by managers and they are not driven by finances, they have been suggested by us and our medical colleagues because we know that we can offer a better and sustainable service by working on one site.
“We already run a very successful midwifery led unit at Crowborough which is held in high regard by the women who have used it. Midwifery-led units are very safe places for low risk women to give birth. I want to reassure local women that in other parts of the country, including Kent, stand alone midwifery-led units are about the same travel time from a consultant-led obstetric unit as Eastbourne is to Hastings.
“These units operate very safely and successfully and offer women a very positive birth experience. Please be assured our sole interest has been and always will be about the provision of a high quality midwifery service.”