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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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Back our hospital or go away, campaigner tells bosses

A hospital campaigner has called on bosses to give an urgent commitment to retaining consultant-led maternity services in Whitehaven.

Gerard Richardson photo
Gerard Richardson

Gerard Richardson, of the Save Our Services (SOS) group, today urged chief executive Ann Farrar to make a personal pledge to the west Cumbrian community.

If not he said they “may as well pack their bags”.

It follows the second of two leaked reports revealing that discussions have taken place about the possibility of downgrading Whitehaven to a midwife-led unit only.

This could mean women deemed “low-risk” could give birth in Whitehaven but those considered high-risk – or who may become high-risk at any stage – would have to travel 40 miles in an ambulance to deliver in Carlisle.

Hospital chiefs insist that the reports are discussion documents only, drawn up as part of a wider review of all north Cumbrian health services, and led by NHS Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

They stress that no decisions have yet been taken – and say nothing would change without a full public consultation.

But Mr Richardson said any thoughts of moving maternity should be halted now.

He told the News & Star: “We shouldn’t even be considering sending someone in the final hours of labour to Carlisle.

“They say these are discussion documents but these options shouldn’t even be on the table for discussion.

“I want the chief executive to make an unequivocal statement that this will not happen. Show the local population you are taking it off the table right now. It’s just not acceptable.”

North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust says it has to action to address concerns raised by inspectors, including those surrounding obstetrics and maternity.

As part of this it is looking at all of the possible options.

But Mr Richardson said: “The answer is not to get rid of something you are bad it, it’s to get better at it.

“They are spending millions on a new hospital. We were promised a district general hospital. To me that means consultant-led maternity and 24 hour A&E. Without it that’s not a district general.”

Dr Jeremy Rushmer, the trust’s medical director, said they were working on a five-year plan and leaving no stone unturned.

“The challenges faced by our hospitals are very well documented. These challenges, particularly around recruitment and acute medical care at West Cumberland Hospital, must be addressed and we cannot and will not shy away from tackling these.

“A key part of this is engaging openly and transparently with our clinical teams to ensure we can formulate a robust long term strategy, led by our doctors and nurses, which will address the problems we face and ensure we can deliver safe and sustainable services for generations ahead,” he said.

The long-term plan is expected to see more operations being carried out in Whitehaven. Mr Richardson said this will likely be routine elective. However, he said he would still welcome it – provided the income generated is used to fund other services like maternity and A&E.

If not, he predicts the community will fight cuts all the way. “Maternity was the main fighting point when we started the SOS campaign. We’ve been there, we’ve danced that dance. They now have to reassure the public once and for all,” he added.

n Health bodies from across Cumbria are teaming up to find ways to sustain acute medical care at the West Cumberland Hospital in the short term amid a staffing crisis.

The hospital is struggling to recruit doctors, while safety concerns have also been flagged up.

NHS Cumbria CCG called a meeting this week to address the issues. It said immediate gaps have now been filled with locums, but the situation remains “fragile” and they will be monitoring it closely.

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