Maternity services once again under the spotlight

Consultant-led maternity services are set to be centralised at the Conquest Hospital.

Hospital bosses from East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust are meeting this Friday (March 8) at the Manor Barn in Bexhill to discuss the future of the units at both the Conquest and Eastbourne DGH.

Campaigners from both Hands off the Conquest and Save the DGH will undoubtedly be angry as both groups fought against similar proposals in 2008 when the Secretary of State overruled NHS managers’ plans.

The hospital trust’s preferred option out of a series of five is to maintain the provision of a consultant-led obstetric service, neonatal service (including the Special Care Baby Unit), in-patient paediatric service and emergency gynaecology service at the Conquest Hospital only and set up a midwifery-led maternity unit alongside enhanced ambulatory paediatric care at the DGH.

A trust spokesman said: “The National Clinical Advisory Team (NCAT) has advised us that the current maternity and paediatric services in East Sussex cannot continue as they are at present.

“The trust is unable to recruit suitable doctors to fill medical posts in these specialities which has meant an over reliance on temporary and agency staff. There has been an increasing requirement to take immediate, unplanned action to address staffing shortfalls, thus employing temporary staff at short notice who are unlikely to be familiar with the environment, policy and procedures of the unit and may not operate to the required level of competency. Staff with the required competencies are not available 24/7 and providing senior clinical support to junior staff is difficult within the current service configuration.”

Darren Grayson, trust chief executive, said: “We all know that it is easy to make changes after an incident has occurred. What is more challenging but is the right thing to do is to make changes now to ensure the service is as safe as possible to avoid any preventable risk to a mother or her baby. As the accountable officer I have ultimate responsibility for safety in this organisation and I have to listen and take action when senior doctors, midwifery staff and external agencies tell me it is not sustainable on safety grounds to continue as we are.”

The meeting will be held in public and starts at 2.30pm.

Those wishing to access the papers prior to the meeting can do so by visiting the trust’s website at

* What do you think of the current proposal? Email Observer reporter Richard Gladstone at