Review casts doubt over maternity unit

THE future of the Conquest’s maternity unit is again in doubt as local health bosses launched a review this week.

East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, together with Eastbourne’s DGH, said there needed to be changes to both units in due course otherwise mothers’ and babies’ lives could be put at risk.

The news comes much to the dismay of campaigners, who successfully fought off plans in 2007 to close either the Conquest’s or the DGH’s maternity unit.

Thousands marched along Hastings seafront in protest at the plans.

In March it was claimed that one of the two units could shut following a critical report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) over patient safety at both hospitals.

But hospital bosses said there were no such plans.

Margaret Williams, chairman of Hands off the Conquest, said: “It’s the same argument now as it was in 2007. Until we have a decent road system between here and Eastbourne it’s not safe to close either unit. Our argument was proven right.

“I don’t believe the trust can go against what the Secretary of State at the time said, that two units should be kept. But I fear that the trust will go for a single-site option.”

The town’s MP Amber Rudd tabled a debate in the House of Commons in March highlighting the high levels of deprivation, high teenage pregnancy rate and said patient safety would be put at risk if the Conquest unit was shut.

She said: “I hope as part of this review the trust will listen to the community who are absolutely clear they do not want changes to the service. All the arguments we paraded last time still hold good.”

The review, expected to last four months, will also cover neonatology and paediatrics and emergency gynaecology.

Darren Grayson, the trust’s chief executive, said: “Undertaking a review is not something that the trust does lightly and we are aware of the previous history in relation to these services and the recommendation made by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP).

“However, despite the investment of considerable time and effort as well as additional funding put in place to deliver the IRP recommendation, we continue to experience challenges in providing maternity services in the current model.

“We are clear that without some degree of change the service will not be sustainable and that unacceptable risks to safety may materialise and we can not allow this to happen.

“The trust board remains open-minded to the best and safest way of ensuring we can continue to provide high quality care for mothers and babies. But it is clear we cannot carry on as we are in the long-term.”

Mr Grayson said the review will involve the public and all interested parties, such as GPs, and a series of events will be arranged where people can voice views.

It will be led externally by Marie Grant, a senior midwife.