Midwife facing disciplinary action after speaking out about hospital maternity decision

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Bernadette Bowness
Bernadette Bowness

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Mrs Bowness, who has previously said lives would be put at risk if consultants were withdrawn, spoke of her concerns at the uncertainty that continues to hang over the service and how that will impact on recruitment.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They have written to chief executive Stephen Eames demanding the action be withdrawn.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.

 Stephen Eames

Stephen Eames

“It seems to us a deliberate attempt to sabotage co-production before it has even started and once again we question whether there is a will to make services work.”

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.”

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Jacqueline   Gardner , Cockermouth Wednesday, 15 March, 2017 at 9:33AM
It seems that all previous comments on this article have been deleted and I wonder why. Bernadette made no mention of the fact that she is a midwife and was giving her personal opinion, saying what most people think. As a West Cumbrian, is she not also entitled to voice her concerns?
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John   Atkinson , Oughterside Tuesday, 14 March, 2017 at 12:23AM
If This women wants to blow the whistle on something which is wrong why should she be punished, she shoul be rewarded and the management should hang their heads in shame , but the public will be on her side ! Watch this space
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Tim   Knowles , Frizington Monday, 13 March, 2017 at 11:13PM
This is typical of the behaviour of a top management team which seems incapable of managing this highly charged situation appropriately.
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olga   purves , moor row whitehaven cumbria Monday, 13 March, 2017 at 7:54PM
Disgusting. A very good ladies comments have been trashed yet again. I think its time those people who make thesee so called decisions should listen to midwives who havee worked at west Cumberland maternity hospital for as long as Mrs bwness has and take notice of them with out delay. They are better qualified to know what's best for their patience. I would hate to think If a mother gd forbid takes a really bad turn on a transfer or a bad accident occurs. Who is going to take responsibility for mother and babies. It was only last week that the aA595was closed due to a bad accident at moor row.. for gods sake listen to the nurses for a change and get up off your backsides instead of hiding away in your fancy offices day in and day out. Hope people agree with me
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Maurice   Tate , Maryport Sunday, 12 March, 2017 at 9:13PM
Come clean Mr Eames this lady is only expressing what every member of the public knows to be true that you are silencing them. Get it sorted, I was at the meeting and the 12 month stay of execution is exactly that you executives at the top of Cumbrias NHS boards have rolled over and sucummed to "The total lack of Success Regime" and sold West/South Cumbria down the river to a second class healthcare for the furure. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
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Jim   Jones , Cumbria Sunday, 12 March, 2017 at 8:37PM
She's lucky she doesn't work in the private sector. Can you imagine an employee of a company going on TV to criticize their employer? Be sacked before the end of the day.
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Anne   Wetherow , Maryport Sunday, 12 March, 2017 at 7:15PM
Disgusting
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Deborah   Graves , Workington Sunday, 12 March, 2017 at 6:53PM
Its a disgrace, she only spoke what she felt. Life should be led by integrity, those who stand there and say the proposed changes are safe, will one day have questions to answer. But then its like a lot of big organisations, think they can treat people like dirt, and the law allows it.
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sjt   , Sunday, 12 March, 2017 at 6:37PM
ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE BULLYING CULTURE WITHIN OUR HEALTH SERVICE,A DISGRACE
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Florence May   Beattie , Cumbria Sunday, 12 March, 2017 at 6:23PM
Here is a dedicated, experienced and professional midwife who is well respected in the community. She merely expressed her concerns about the decisions being made about the risks to mothers and babies. Firstly I found it outrageous that they would even consider transferring mothers and babies in an emergency to Carlisle and just as outraged that she should be disciplined for merely voicing those concerns to the media. Are we living in a democratic society or a dictatorship!? It is really extremely worrying for patients if staff are not allowed to speak out, regarding their safety. At the end of the day it is the front line staff who have to face the consequences if a mother, baby or child dies. Or do we hold the decision makers responsible?
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