Proposed Maternity Unit Closures Prompts Protests

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Planned closures and downgrades of maternity units in five hospitals have caused campaigners to march on Downing Street to protest the proposals.

The Law Of... ensuring health services support patients

Claiming that the move could endanger lives, campaigners from across the country are objecting various local NHS five-year sustainability and transformation plans (STPs).

Evaluating the reasoning for the proposed closures, Kay Barnes – a qualified nurse and midwife and Senior Solicitor on Simpson Millar's medical negligence team – discusses the necessity of good care during child birth.

Funding Shortfalls

In order to plug a shortfall in the NHS budget, which is expected to reach £22billion by 2020, various local NHS Trusts have made proposals to close or downgrade their maternity units.

Under the proposals, smaller maternity departments and special-care baby units will be absorbed into larger hospitals.

Five hospitals outlined proposals to remove or reduce their maternity units, these are:

  • North Devon District Hospital
  • Horton General Hospital in Banbury
  • Poole Hospital in Dorset
  • Bedford Hospital
  • Leicester General Hospital

These proposals are part of the 44 STPs currently being devised, with final submissions to NHS England expected this month.

Protesting The Proposals

Campaigners claim that making such drastic changes in STPs surmounts to cutting services under the radar, with some A&E departments and acute services also under threat from the five-year plans.

Closing or downgrading maternity units, especially in rural areas, may have a profound effect on local child birth services; if the maternity unit at North Devon District Hospital is closed mothers in labour would have to travel up to 50 miles to similar units in Exeter or Plymouth.

The proposed closure of services at North Devon District Hospital is to help plug a £572million funding gap for the local commissioning group.

Many of the proposals involve removing lead consultants at maternity units and having midwives running units for lower-risk births; when complications arise mothers will be transferred to a specialist centre.

Those opposing the move to merge maternity units will join local residents from across the country to march against cuts across the NHS, including those from Grantham who are campaigning against the proposals to close Grantham's A&E department overnight.

Explaining the proposal, Kay said:

"Under these proposals, delays look inevitable. In my experience as a midwife I learnt that when complications arise during labour a matter of minutes can make all the difference."

"Though most babies are delivered safely, sadly that is not always the case and when things go wrong the damage can be significant, with serious complications for the mother, and in worst cases errors leading to a child suffering brain damage."

"Having identified a complication and then waiting to be transferred to another unit before problems have been properly addressed, which in itself could pose risks, seems fraught with difficulty and could endanger lives."

"Pregnancy and delivery can be a very anxious time, particularly for first time mums and good care is essential to ensure nothing goes wrong."

"Clinical Commissioning Groups say that these proposals are a work in progress. If this is the case, a careful analysis of the facts and possible outcomes is paramount before implementing any changes, as these proposals place mothers at risk and put their unborn babies in danger."

"A new baby is a joyous time for parents and families and every effort should be made to avoid unnecessary tragedy."

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