Maternity consultants urge hospital bosses to stop lying
A group of maternity consultants have written to health bosses urging them to stop lying about staff support for proposals to downgrade west Cumbrian services.
The six obstetric and gynaecology medics, who all work at the West Cumberland Hospital, have stressed that a 24-hour specialist-led service is the only safe option for women and babies.
They are the latest to add their voice to calls to retain vital services "on safety grounds", and say they will reject any other option - and criticise bosses for suggesting they support the proposals.
Thehas seen a letter sent to Stephen Singleton at the Success Regime, signed by all six.
Bosses are considering downgrading the current full time consultant-led unit at the Whitehaven hospital.
If that happens all that would remain would be a midwife-led unit, possibly with consultants on hand 8am until 8pm.
As a result, women likely to need a consultant would have to travel to Carlisle's Cumberland Infirmary to give birth.
There is also widespread concern that, should a simple birth go wrong in Whitehaven, women in labour would face a 40-mile trip in an ambulance to get the help they need. Campaigners say this would put the lives of women and babies at risk.
Bosses claim they cannot recruit consultants, and therefore cannot find a way to safety staff the existing 24-hour unit. They argue it would be safer for complex births to take place in Carlisle.
But the existing consultants, who all work for North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, disagree.
The letter states: "We would like you to be aware that all the West Cumberland obstetric and gynaecology consultants and the outgoing clinical director have always and still reject all other models, apart from consultant-led services 24 hours a day at both West Cumberland Hospital and Cumberland Infirmary, on safety grounds.
"This was expressed to you verbally and in writing last year, and has always been expressed at subsequent meetings within the trust."
The consultants go on to criticise bosses for suggesting that medical staff are behind their proposals to downgrade services, and for not doing enough to publicise recruitment successes.
"We are disturbed that the trust and Success Regime have issued public statements stating that local clinicians either support or are divided in this issue and would request that all future reports reflect our true stance," the letter adds.
"We are also disappointed that our recent successes in recruitment have been denied publicity. The trust and Success Regime have not engaged with our new working models and new recruitment strategy, nor considered it as a way of improving recruitment within other departments."
The clinicians go on to accept an invitation to meet and discuss the issues in more detail.
In a joint response, Prof Singleton, along with NHS Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group medical director David Rogers and trust medical director Rod Harpin, said: “We are aware concerns have been expressed regarding the professional view of clinical staff in respect of the future of maternity services.
"The position of the wider clinical leadership team is that if we cannot maintain consultant-led units at both hospital sites, we must explore alternative ways to provide a safe and sustainable service for mothers and babies in west, north and east Cumbria.
“It is just not true that any decisions relating to changes in maternity services have been made. Future options will be part of the upcoming public consultation when we will invite members of the public and our staff to share their views on the options.”
But Lynne Davies, of the We Need West Cumberland Hospital campaign group, said the letter strengthens the case to retain 24-hour consultant-led maternity services in Whitehaven.
"These clinicians are on the front line everyday and know the dangers for pregnant mums. I would certainly trust their judgement.
"The people of West Cumbria appreciate both their work and willingness to speak out," she added.
Success Regime chief Sir Neil McKay will come face to face with campaigners at a public meeting in Whitehaven next week.
Organised by Copeland MP Jamie Reed, it will be held at 7pm on Wednesday at the United Reformed Church, James Street.
The Regime will then publish its formal plans at the end of the month, followed by an official consultation.