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MP's fears for maternity services at Cumbrian hospital

Maternity services could be next to be hit as more complex urgent surgery is moved from Whitehaven to Carlisle, a west Cumbrian MP fears.

Jamie Reed photo
Jamie Reed

Copeland’s Jamie Reed has uncovered documents showing hospital leaders have debated this issue in recent weeks. And he also fears other core services previously promised to west Cumbria – such as A&E, intensive care and paediatrics – could eventually be hit.

Hospital bosses stress there is no immediate threat, but say there are challenges that can no longer be ignored, including in maternity and obstetrics.

Several years ago a controversial review put the future of the obstetric-led maternity unit at the West Cumberland Hospital in doubt. One of the options was to centralise services, keeping a midwife-led unit in Whitehaven and sending all complex cases to Carlisle.

It prompted a backlash from local people who fought to keep it open.

But Mr Reed said he is concerned that the latest decision to transfer more complex surgery to Carlisle – most recently high-risk general surgery – is leaving other specialised services, including obstetrics, vulnerable.

He said he questioned bosses of the troubled North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust about the issue during a health summit he held in Cleator Moor on Monday and was told this wasn’t being considered.

But he has since seen papers – a presentation given to the trust’s clinical policy group on September 20 – that suggest otherwise.

Jeremy Rushmer, the trust’s new medical director, admitted that these debates have been ongoing as they work to ensure services in north Cumbria are safe and sustainable.

And he said it was all part of a wider culture change: “We are now, unlike before, a clinically-led organisation which faces up to the challenges we have, some we have had for many years.

“Our clinical staff are supported to openly discuss ideas and issues which is something that we encourage and expect. One of the issues raised included the challenges surrounding the current configuration of maternity services,” he explained.

“The challenges relating to delivering a full consultant-led maternity service in West Cumberland Hospital have been well documented and debated over many years by many experts. These are challenges that we cannot, nor will not, ignore.”

But Mr Reed said he would not accept anything less than was promised to the people of west Cumbria during the Closer to Home consultation five years ago. This includes bed numbers and investment in community hospitals that has not yet been fully met.

“I cannot stand for this, and the people of west Cumbria will not accept it.

“This community campaigned hard. We fought for key clinical services at the West Cumberland Hospital, for a new hospital and for the future of our community hospitals.

“We were promised a new hospital with its key consultant-led services retained and in return for accepting change, we were promised that new community hospitals would be built in Millom, Maryport and Keswick. Right now Closer to Home looks close to collapse, promises made in detail to this community look set to be broken.”

Mr Reed, who is Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, is now calling for bosses to be up front with the community, including holding public meetings. Allerdale council leader Alan Smith and Copeland’s Elaine Woodburn have made similar calls in recent days.

Dr Rushmer said there would be consultation before any final decisions over services were made – but it would have to be led by the county’s GP-led Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which now decides exactly how local health budgets should be spent.

“Discussions are required to understand these issues further but it will be the responsibility of the CCG to commission a safe and sustainable service.

“Any changes proposed will need to be fully consulted on,” he said.

Have your say

Maternity services should consist of a midwife led service at Whitehaven for low risk mums and use Carlile for the most complicated cases
where there is sufficient back up tp to ensure

Posted by Freda Nerk on 4 October 2013 at 14:59

I agree with rabbit. It's decided. Maternity will be at risk. The Trust will not want to recruit consultant obstetricians and gynaecologists to work at WCH despite some wanting too work there.

We need a public meeting now and have the trust lay its cards on the table.

We need to know why Closer to Home has not been implemented adequately.

Health care in Cumbria (or the management of it is a mess) and has been played around with for far too long.

This is our health service, not North Cumbria University NHS Trust or Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust.

Most of us appreciate the difficulties but lets get a public meeting and get our voices heard or it will be (if not already) too late!

Posted by Tim on 4 October 2013 at 10:32

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