Future of the Conquest’s maternity unit hangs in the balance

THE future of maternity services at the Conquest is under threat again after the Observer obtained NHS trust documents detailing cost-cutting proposals.

Four years after first backing down over the deeply unpopular plans, hospital bosses are now considering possibly slashing the consultant-led maternity unit at either the Conquest, on The Ridge, or its sister hospital, Eastbourne DGH.

The plans also recommend the possibility of cutting back on a string of vital departments, such as emergency surgery, with some shared with the DGH or removed altogether. In 2008 people from both Hastings and Eastbourne campaigned against the proposals by East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust to downgrade maternity. They were vocal in their opposition, with a seafront march in both towns involving thousands of people helping to give a bloody nose to the controversial plans.

Now though it seems the trust is determined to push on with the idea which would see a midwife-led unit retained at whichever centre lost its consultants.

Were the Conquest to lose its full maternity service any parents living locally who run into complications during birth could face having to travel 13 miles along the coast for treatment on a road notorious for its tailbacks. The trust originally approved the plans for a single-site consultant-led unit but saw its decision overruled by the then Secretary of State after an independent panel said both towns needed their own specialist department.

Now though it is not just maternity which is under threat. The trust is also recommending a single-site inpatient facility for paediatrics, childcare and emergency and planned surgery.

Specialist stroke care is also being earmarked for centralising at one site or the other.

Hastings and Rye MP, Amber Rudd, said: “I will fight very hard to maintain the full maternity services at the Conquest. I will certainly make sure that we get the best outcome.”

A hospital trust spokesman said: “Work continues on the development of our clinical strategy which is key for the future sustainability of the health services across East Sussex. Led by doctors and nurses together with local GPs and key stakeholders including patient representatives we have considered national best practice and the evidence for delivering safe, quality services that meet the future health needs of our local population and ensure excellent clinical outcomes and patient experience.

“We are determined to ensure we are able to deliver clinically and financially sustainable services for the long term that are of the highest standard possible for our patients. As part of the development of these plans we have involved all our local MPs. They are aware that any proposals for significant change will be part of a formal public consultation that will be undertaken by NHS Sussex in conjunction with the Clinical Commissioning Groups and the trust.”