July 23, 2008

Watchdog Backs Ending Baby Deliveries at Outlying Hospitals

HOPES of saving maternity services at three community hospitals were dashed yesterday when a report by an NHS watchdog backed the changes by a Yorkshire health trust.

Thousands of protesters have been campaigning for the right of expectant mothers in Whitby, Bridlington, and Malton to have their babies at their local hospital, rather than go to Scarborough.

But Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) - which is the health service's guiding light on patient care changes - has now published a report agreeing with the Scarborough and North East Yorkshire NHS Trust's decision.

Patients will still be able to access maternity services locally before and after birth, but births are to be centralised at Scarborough Hospital to ensure the safe delivery of babies.

The delivery provision at the community hospitals will be wound up - provided Health Secretary Alan Johnson approves the recommendations - once the enhanced services are up and running at Scarborough.

The IRP had been asked to review the decision after an objection by North Yorkshire County Council's scrutiny of health committee.

The IRP's chairman, Dr Peter Barrett, said: "We concluded maintaining consultant-led maternity services at Scarborough Hospital, alongside the development of a new midwife-led unit, offers the best solution.

"Over the last three years there has been a sharp fall in the number of births at the Whitby, Malton and Bridlington units. Selection protocols for giving birth at a midwife-led unit have been tightened and the trust has allowed midwife numbers to decrease."

The panel argued keeping facilities open at the outlying sites is "unsustainable" and mothers-to-be will have to travel to Scarborough if they do not want a home birth.

However, the health trust's directors have been ordered to recruit more midwives from Bridlington, as well as Whitby and Malton, to ensure the full range of ante-natal and post-natal services continues to be provided.

Transport links for expectant mothers will also have to be improved.

Dr Barrett added: "Providing high quality maternity services for women and families in the area has been the most important consideration during this review."

Mick Pilling, the Bridlington-based campaigner who has led the fight against the cuts which was taken to Downing Street, dismissed the findings as "utter rubbish" yesterday.

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