July 24, 2008

Minister Gives His Backing to Independent Report Supporting Maternity Unit Closures

HEALTH Secretary Alan Johnson yesterday signalled the final nail in the coffin for the battle to prevent a massive overhaul of maternity services across vast swathes of Yorkshire.

Mr Johnson, the Labour MP for West Hull and Hessle, announced he had backed an independent report by an NHS watchdog which had already supported the changes to the key services at three Yorkshire community hospitals.

Campaigners had staged a vociferous fight to allow expectant mothers in Whitby, Bridlington, and Malton to have their babies at their local hospital rather than go to Scarborough.

Among the protesters was councillor Howard Keal, the leader of Ryedale District Council's Liberal Democrat group, who said the decision was a "terrible result", adding: "The decision is an appalling blow and a slap in the face for mothers.

"It is also hard to take that one of the reasons cited for the response is that the number of births at the unit has reduced when that has been as a direct result of staff cuts and a policy of closure by stealth.

The Yorkshire Post revealed yesterday that the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), the NHS's guiding light on patient care changes, had itself backed the Scarborough and North East Yorkshire NHS Trust's proposals.

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 IRP said keeping facilities open at the outlying sites is "unsustainable".

However, the health trust's directors have been ordered to recruit more midwives from Bridlington, as well as Whitby and Malton.

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

The Conservative MP for the Vale of York Anne McIntosh said the changes will diminish access to maternity services.

However, Mr Johnson stressed that the health trust's proposals were "clinically led" and the changes are necessary to ensure adequate levels of care.

(c) 2008 Yorkshire Post. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.