HASTINGS will not lose its maternity unit if the local community opposes such a move, a health minister has vowed.
Last week Amber Rudd MP tabled a debate in the House of Commons outlining her continuing fears over the future of the maternity service at the Conquest Hospital, but Anne Milton MP tried to allay her fears.
It was claimed last month that after a critical report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) over patient safety at the hospital on The Ridge and the District General Hospital in Eastbourne, that one of the hospitals’ maternity units could close, much to the dismay of campaigners who fought off similar plans in 2007.
And despite a statement from bosses at the East Sussex Hospitals Trust (ESHT) saying there were no plans to close either unit, Ms Rudd admitted she still had concerns.
“I am worried and my constituents are worried. Four years ago the community rose up in arms, we campaigned in our thousands and we marched with babies and with prams. We did not let up until we won, and win we did.”
Ms Rudd pointed to Hastings’s high levels of deprivation and its unenviable teenage pregnancy rate, insisting patient safety would be put at risk if the unit was shut. She also criticised the use of expensive temporary doctors which she said cost the trust twice as much as salaried doctors – £18,000 a month rather than £9,000.
Referring to the ESHT statement, Ms Rudd said: “In this reassurance there is a sting – that levels of staffing may require a change which I fear could include the closure of one of the units.
“It feels like we are up against the establishment - it is a tide that wants to push us one way and that is to supersize the maternity unit. We simply will not accept that.”
Praising Ms Rudd for her “passion” Ms Milton, a former nurse, said the trust needed to run a “real and meaningful consultation” over whatever proposals it brings forward.
“It is important to stress that no decisions have been taken in advance,” she said. “Service changes that do not have the support of local doctors, patients and the local community should not happen.”
Ms Rudd was supported by Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd, who said he feared that a “conspiracy” to shut one of the units was afoot, but a spokesman for ESHT re-iterated that there were no plans to close either ward.