Threat facing Hastings maternity services renewed

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THE future of the maternity unit at the Conquest Hospital has been plunged into doubt again amid rumours of a possible closure.

Bosses at the East Sussex Hospitals Trust (ESHT) have denied that any decision has been taken, but they have not denied that the maternity unit at either the Conquest or the Eastbourne District General Hospital (DGH) could close after a report highlighted concerns over patients’ safety. A single maternity unit would serve both towns, with mums forced to travel to have their babies.

Sources have suggested that the DGH maternity unit is the more likely to close - and that private discussions have already taken place - but any uncertainty is bad news for campaigners who fought off similar plans in 2007.

Margaret Williams of the Hands off the Conquest Group, said: “It is worrying times if we are here again. I know they are short of staff in Eastbourne and I now staff from Hastings have had to go over there so it is a problem.

“But there is still no decent road between the two towns and mums and babies will suffer on the journey.

“I think if the DGH closed it would be good for the Conquest but this is a moral issue. Anyone on the trust board who supports single siting should do the honourable thing and resign.”

In 2007, an Independent Reconfiguration Panel ruled that both maternity units had to stay open because the 21-mile journey would “seriously compromise” access to care, a decision rubber-stamped by then Health Secretary Alan Johnson.

And Mrs Williams said she was disappointed with the response when she and DGH campaigner Liz Walke tackled hospital bosses at a meeting at The Conquest on Wednesday. “They were rude to us. They have been engaging with Liz and I for the last two or three year then they do not tell us something like this. What are we supposed to make of that? It’s backstabbing - and we feel extremely let down.”

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) visited both hospitals in mid-February and Darren Grayson, chief executive of the ESHT said that senior doctors had raised concerns over “making sure our services are as safe for patients as they can be.”

The trust will wait for the full CQC report to be published and Mr Grayson said: “There has been no decision to close one or other of our maternity departments. At all times our decisions will be guided by our principal responsibility - the care and safety of our patients.”

And Amber Rudd MP refused to be drawn on any possible closure. She said: “It is a significant, upsetting and worrying outcome if the CQC was critical for safety reasons. I am not prepared to assume this is the same battle as 2007. Let’s wait and see what evidence comes from the CQC and what they say about the maternity units.”

But Rachel Verdin of the GMB union said: “We are extremely concerned about the prospect of any closure and will strongly support any campaign against it. It seems a bit odd that we are back here treading over the same ground.”