Midwife facing disciplinary action after speaking out about hospital maternity decision
A long-serving midwife is facing disciplinary action after speaking to the media over a controversial decision about maternity services.
Bernadette Bowness, 64, has been called to a meeting with bosses to explain herself after raising her concerns in a television interview.
It comes just days after health leaders called on the public to trust them and work with them to help secure consultant-led maternity in Whitehaven.
But they are already facing a new backlash after campaigners rushed to the defence of Mrs Bowness and called for any action against her to be stopped.
Her comments followed the decision by NHS Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to retain consultant-led maternity at the West Cumberland Hospital - but only for a year. Bosses promised that, over the next 12 months, they would work alongside the community to help tackle long-standing recruitment problems.
If successful the unit will stay open but if vacancies can’t be filled the service will be centralised in Carlisle, leaving only a midwife-led unit in Whitehaven and forcing all but the most low risk births to travel to the Cumberland Infirmary.
Mrs Bowness, who has previously said lives would be put at risk if consultants were withdrawn, spoke of her concerns at the uncertainty that continues to hang over the service and how that will impact on recruitment.
But the comments, given immediately after Wednesday’s high-profile decision meeting in Workington, have prompted action by bosses.
Members of the We Need West Cumberland Hospital campaign group say they are “outraged” and have accused bosses of trying to silence staff.
They have written to chief executive Stephen Eames demanding the action be withdrawn.
It is not the first time North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust has come under fire for preventing staff from expressing their opinions.
In September, immediately ahead of the Success Regime public consultation being launched, the News & Star revealed that staff had been warned about expressing their views on social media. It also emerged that some had been called into meetings after speaking publicly about plans being considered.
But following last week’s decision, Mr Eames said it was time for the local NHS and wider community to start working together in a new way.
Many were sceptical about the 12 month reprieve fearing it was simply setting the service up to fail so it could then be closed. But Mr Eames insisted they were committed to making it a success and called on the public to work with them.
But Annette Robson, of the We Need West Cumberland Hospital, warned that taking disciplinary action against staff only alienates the public further. She has now written to Mr Eames calling on him to drop the action against Mrs Bowness.
She told the News & Star: “At the CCG meeting it was mentioned that it was important to regain the trust of the community and the word of the morning was “co-production” (working together). This disgraceful treatment of Mrs Bowness, a highly respected, professional, dedicated and loved member of our midwifery team at WCH, does nothing but damage relationships between the people making decisions and the public.
Her letter to Mr Eames added: “You have said many times at public meetings and in the press that staff are not bullied and if they were you would do something about it. Now is the time for you to keep that promise. We look forward to hearing that the disciplinary action against Mrs Bowness has been dropped.”
Responding to the letter, Mr Eames said: “All of our staff are bound by clear and transparent policies for engaging the media. It is important to distinguish between this and internal staff management issues which are of course confidential.”