Maternity unit changes begin

CONTROVERSIAL changes to maternity and children’s services start on Tuesday (May 7).

The consultant-led maternity unit will be based at the Conquest Hospital on The Ridge while Eastbourne DGH’s unit is to be reduced to one led by midwives.

The unpopular decision was made by NHS bosses on March 8, much to the anger of campaigners from both Hands off the Conquest and Save the DGH.

Both groups had fought against similar proposals in 2008 when the then Secretary of State overturned NHS bosses’ plans.

Campaigners cited poor road infrastructure between Hastings and Eastbourne and added the latest move could potentially put mothers and babies at risk.

Margaret Williams, chairman of Hands off the Conquest, said: “This is not good for the women of East Sussex because of the road situation, which has got busier. I feel the DGH will suffer and extra pressure will be put on the Conquest unit.”

Neonatal (including the Special Care Baby Unit), in-patient paediatric and emergency gynaecology services will also be based at the Conquest.

The changes mean women needing emergency Caesareans and suffering from other complications during labour will have to travel almost 20 miles to the Conquest.

East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs both hospitals, said the move is temporary and will last up to 18 months.

It also said it was necessary for safety reasons following advice from the National Clinical Advisory Team (NCAT).

Changes are also being made to the way services are provided on the Friston Children’s Unit at Eastbourne DGH.

It will become a Short Stay Paediatric Assessment Unit which will only assess and treat children who have been referred by their GP.

Any child who is likely to need an overnight stay in hospital will be treated elsewhere, usually at the Conquest.

Jamal Zaidi, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, said: “These changes are being made purely on the grounds of safety and are fully supported by the obstetric and gynaecology consultants and senior midwives who work for the trust.

“The safety of women and babies is our number one priority and we believe that these temporary changes will mean we can provide the best care possible.

“All pregnant women who are planning to give birth at the trust will have the opportunity to discuss the changes and what it will mean for them with their midwife and/or obstetrician.

“We are also contacting the parents of children with long-term conditions who use our services frequently to explain how this will impact on them.”

Dr David Scott, consultant paediatrician, said: “Our philosophy in children’s services has, for many years, been to keep children out of hospital where possible.

“We will continue to run our very successful Paediatric Assessment Units, the main change is that children who need an overnight stay in hospital will now be treated elsewhere, usually at the Conquest Hospital.

“Local parents should be assured that these changes will not affect the safety of the service.

“It is worth noting that it is currently common practice for children to be transferred from Eastbourne DGH to specialist centres dependant on the nature of their condition.”

The temporary changes do not affect outpatient paediatrics and gynaecology, as well as community midwifery and children’s services.