Behind the scenes at The Conquest maternity unit

THE day maternity was centralised at the Conquest, May 7, doctors and midwives witnessed the highest number of births in any one day since the beginning of April.

A total of 14 babies were born at the Conquest, seven of them to mothers who would have given birth at Eastbourne DGH.

Danielle Coleman and Dan Vidler with their new baby, Wren

Danielle Coleman and Dan Vidler with their new baby, Wren

Despite this, staff at the Conquest believe the changes have gone smoothly and are convinced hospital trust board members made the right decision in March.

In addition, there were no babies in the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) at the time the changes came into effect, so there was no need to transfer any babies across to the Conquest and the DGH SCBU unit was able to close as planned.

Jenny Crowe, deputy head of midwifery for East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, the body that runs both the Conquest and DGH, said between May 7 and Wednesday, May 15, 69 babies were born across both hospitals.

She said: “The whole purpose of the move was to ensure safety for all of the women in East Sussex. Now we have the facilities to be able to deal with the activity. Most importantly we now have the increased consultant presence and additional back up from the on-call team.

“There are now two doctors on call at night, instead of just one, as was the case before the changes, a junior and a senior doctor to cover obstetrics and gynaecology. Things have gone very smoothly and the two groups of staff that have come together are working very well. We have 72 hours of consultant presence on the wards over a week. Before the changes it was only 40, even though there was always a consultant on call.”

The trust’s clinicians and managers decided on March 8 at a public meeting at the Manor Barn in Bexhill to base consultant-led obstetric services, neonatal (including the SCBU), in-patient paediatric and emergency gynaecology services at the Conquest temporarily for up to 18 months. Darren Grayson, the hospital trust’s chief executive, said at the time that doctors, midwives and nurses, together with the National Clinical Advisory Team (NCAT) advised the organisation that urgent action was needed to ensure the safety of mothers and babies and that one hospital needed to have a centralised consultant-led unit.

Jenny agreed and said since the changes there were now 10 midwives on any one shift to deal with booked emergency caesareans four days a week when previously there were only seven. On days when no caesareans are booked there are nine midwives on duty.

The Observer was given a quick tour around the maternity unit on Wednesday to see what extra facilities have been put in place. The Conquest now has two new delivery rooms and an enlarged recovery area with two beds for mothers who have undergone emergency caesareans or other procedures in theatre.

In total there are 10 delivery rooms, compared to the previous eight.

Staff also are able to handle two emergency cases simultaneously which they could do before, but a new theatre area has been created to make the facilities more suitable.

Jenny added: “The facilities were nothing like as suitable as they are now before the changes so this is a definite upgrade.”

Starting next week there will be a five-bedded transitional care unit for mums and babies staffed by midwives and specialist care nurses. This is a new feature that will support newborn babies with medical problems such as maintaining temperature and blood sugar levels but who do not have as serious a problem that requires a stay in the SCBU.

Jenny said: “This is a really positive step as it keeps mothers and babies together. When a baby is in the SCBU the mother stays in the post-natal ward. This transitional unit we are creating will help promote bonding between mother and baby and breastfeeding.”

As well as this an additional four beds have been placed in the post-natal ward. Eight beds have also been introduced in the ante-natal ward together with six beds for induction of labour.

The Observer caught up with Marie Foreman, midwifery matron, who transferred over from the DGH almost two weeks ago.

“It has taken time to adjust to working in a new unit but the staffing levels are good and it’s safer for patients,” she said. “We would all like to have services on our doorstep but in reality if driving 20 miles along the coast means you are going to have a better service for your baby, together with better care, it has to be a good thing. Maternity is always an emotive subject but it is not as if anything has been taken away, as Eastbourne has its midwifery-led unit.”

Parents Danielle Coleman, 30, and 35-year-old Dan Vidler, who live in Battle, were full of praise for maternity staff.

Danielle gave birth to baby daughter Wren early on Monday (May 13).

It was an uneventful pregnancy until her waters broke 76 hours before her baby was born. She said: “The contractions were not doing anything, I was in a lot of pain and no progress was being made. I was given a load of antibiotics because my waters had broken so early and the pain was hard to control. I had to have an epidural before undergoing an emergency caesarean.”

Wren, weighing 8lbs and 13oz, was born eight days overdue.

Danielle added: “The changes are a good thing and staff here have been lovely, supportive and professional. We were lucky enough to have one of the new rooms in the delivery suite. Even though things didn’t go according to plan it was a positive experience we had at the hospital. Vanya Bramble was just superb.”

The first woman to travel from Eastbourne to the Conquest to have her baby as a result of the changes to maternity services has also spoken positively about her experience. Hannah Pattenden went into labour four weeks early in the evening of Thursday, May 2. Although this was before the changes to services were officially made, given that Hannah is diabetic and there were concerns about the size of her baby, she was advised to go to the Conquest to give birth.

Her partner, Matthew Evans, drove her there and just after 10pm, baby Sophie Irene Evans was born weighing 5lbs 13oz. The couple are already parents to Phoebe, who will be two in the summer.

Hannah said: “Sophie wasn’t due until the end of May and because I’m classed as high-risk, I knew I’d have to travel to the Conquest to have her. To begin with I was really upset and worried about what it would be like, but the staff and facilities here are amazing and I’m so pleased that I had Sophie here.

“It took us about half an hour to get here which was fine, the layout is brilliant as you can park right by the door and access the unit right there. I had a lovely room to give birth in and it all felt so clean and spacious. I was worried that with all the changes they might not be ready for me, but I felt safe as soon as I walked in the door. I’ve got friends in Eastbourne who are pregnant and I know they’re worried about having their baby at the Conquest, but I can reassure them that they really have nothing to worry about. I’m really impressed by the unit and the staff here, they have been fantastic and couldn’t have looked after me and Sophie any better.”