Fears rise over maternity units

A CAMPAIGNER who helped win the battle to keep consultant-led maternity services at the Conquest Hospital fears the unpopular plans are back on the agenda.

Margaret Williams, chairman of Hands off the Conquest, has also criticised an online questionnaire set up this week by NHS bosses, which asks for the public’s view on the future of the units at the hospital on The Ridge and its sister one, Eastbourne DGH.

She, together with Liz Walke, her counterpart from Save the DGH, won a fight in December 2007 to keep full maternity units when the NHS trust was looking to downgrade either the Conquest’s or DGH’s.

Thousands marched along the seafront in both Hastings and Eastbourne to make their feelings known and managed to convince the Secretary of State to back the option which involved keeping both sites open.

Now though, just more than three years after the landmark decision, East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust has ordered a full review of maternity services at both hospitals, leading to widespread concern that bosses may be gearing up to try again.

Mrs Williams said: “Both Liz and I sit on the review panel and this questionnaire should have come back to us first so we could put our views across about the questions. It doesn’t even mention journey times. This was the main issue last time and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says women about to give birth should be in hospital within 20 minutes if there are and complications. It takes a good 45 minutes to get from Hastings to Eastbourne and vice versa.

“Nothing has changed in the infrastructure since 2007 and we are getting more and more worried for the maternity units’ future, what with the trust’s current finances.”

According to the trust, the purpose of the review is ‘to consider how the service can continue to deliver excellent outcomes and a high quality patient experience, whilst adapting and responding to the needs of the local population and to potential risks to sustainability such as the ongoing difficulties experienced in recruiting staff’.

Mrs Williams is urging Observer readers to fill in the questionnaire to make sure health chiefs are left in no doubt as to the strength of feeling among local people.

To fill in the questionnaire visit www.esht.nhs.uk/maternity- review-questionnaire. Responses need to be in by Friday, August 26.