A LONG-running dispute over maternity services has prompted NHS chiefs to admit that previous approaches to controversial changes have been wrong.

Traditionally health leaders have come up with preferred options and told the community what they are planning - often resulting in anger and protests.

After finally committing to retaining consultant-led maternity services in Whitehaven, following a long-running campaign to save them, senior managers say that a new approach is needed.

John Howarth is deputy chief executive at both North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust and the Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

He said the days of standing up on platforms at public meetings are over. Instead he said working alongside communities to design services and overcome challenges is the way forward.

Dr Howarth said co-production - a phrase coined by the local NHS to explain this joint working process - has been key to saving maternity services.

This new approach was trialled following the major public backlash to controversial proposals drawn up by the Government’s Success Regime, including closing community hospital beds across north Cumbria and centralising services in Carlisle.

Following last week’s crucial decision to save consultant-led services at the West Cumberland Hospital, Dr Howarth said the days of the traditional consultation meeting are over.

“What it means is that we do not solve our problems through formal consultations and polarised views, standing on platforms. We solve our problems through working together locally, with clinicians who are committed and people who really care about their own communities.

“As a person who has worked hard to promote the co-production approach, now I can say it’s how we need to solve problems in future,” he said.

Dr Howarth said although there will be challenges in future, they are now committed to working with the community to tackling them. “We are deeply committed to creating a sustainable environment at West Cumberland Hospital,” he explained.

“What we need is a new approach, rather than standing and talking at the public. The future has to be properly listening to people’s concerns - to build a model based on localism and what communities want, not what we think they should have.”

The maternity controversy dates back many years.

Since then there have been marches, protests and petitions to save services, with campaigners even travelling to Westminster.

Rather than centralising services, NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group’s governing body first agreed to a 12 month trial, to see if recruitment issues could be addressed.

It met last week to consider the findings and recommendations of the Independent Review Group.

The CCG has now agreed to retain consultant-led maternity long term, meaning women will not have to travel to Carlisle.