Anger over plan to close small maternity units

Small NHS maternity units face closure to improve safety standards and help economies across the health service.

Experts said yesterday that those maternity units lacking access to specialist expertise should be closed to protect the lives of mothers and babies – although such closures will mean some expectant mothers having to travel further to give birth.

Responding to yesterday's investigation by The Independent into the crisis in maternity care, Nigel Edwards, the acting chief executive of the NHS Confederation, representing NHS trusts, said: "There is a broad consensus that there needs to be a substantial change in the provision of maternity services involving the downgrading or closure of smaller units to provide safer services. The changes are necessary in order to have appropriate consultant cover but it is important they are not seen as a cost-saving measure, though they may prevent trusts spending more."

Five of the nine NHS regions in England are planning to reconfigure maternity services, involving the closure of smaller units.

But the plans have provoked protests across the country. In Salford, 37,000 people signed a petition against closure of the maternity unit at Salford Royal Hospital, which was handed in to Downing Street. In Kent, Tory MP James Brokenshire intervened to halt the closure of maternity services at Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup. In Rochdale, the Manchester United soccer star Paul Scholes backed the Hands Off Our Hospital campaign against the closure of Rochdale Infirmary's maternity unit, where his children were born.

Last month the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, halted plans to transfer maternity and accident and emergency services from Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield after they had been approved by NHS London. Mr Lansley gave local politicians and campaigners who had opposed the move until Thursday to come up with alternative proposals.

London's maternity services are under the greatest pressure from a sharply rising birth rate, driven by an influx of migrants from Europe in their 20s and 30s, the peak age for having children, and difficulties in recruiting midwives.

A three-year cash injection of £300 million into maternity services by the former Labour government in 2008 has come to an end and some trusts are trying to cut funding to maternity services at a time when demand is rising.

Tony Falconer, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians, said maternity services in Britain varied from "tiny" units delivering 1,300 babies a year to mega-units that deliver up to 8,000.

"Somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 deliveries seems to be a comfortable number," he said. "If you get too big you lose the friendliness of the unit and patients complain they are just a number. But in rural areas you can't say smaller units have to close because that would mean some women having to travel 60 miles."

A report by the Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries last month found wide variations in the perinatal mortality rate around the country. In 14 unnamed trusts the death rate was high enough to require investigation. Nationally, there were 6,070 perinatal deaths in 2009 and 790,781 live births, a mortality rate of 7.6 per 1,000.

Elizabeth Duff, a policy adviser at the National Childbirth Trust, rejected the move towards fewer, bigger maternity units to improve safety.

"We don't agree the answer is all about bigger hospitals and women having to travel further," she said. "I can see that when everything is as stretched as it is now, having rows of women delivering in lines may seem like the way to go but it does not deliver good care and it is not what women want."

THE SERVICES AT RISK

Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup
Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Welwyn Garden City
Sandwell General Hospital, Birmingham
Heart of England Foundation Trust, Midlands
Maidstone Hospital, Kent
Solihull Hospital, West Midlands
King George Hospital, Redbridge, east London
Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield, north London
Leicester General Hospital
Manchester Hospitals Trust.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

    £90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

    £100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

    Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee