Thursday, October 16, 2014


I am very concerned to learn in today's Whitehaven News that the future of the maternity unit at West Cumberland Hospital is under review again
One of the most difficult decisions of my life concerned a proposal to merge two maternity units when I was a Health Authority member.
The proposal was backed very strongly by all three consultant obstetricians at the hospital and they made me realise that the arguments about how to provide safe an sustainable care can be much more complex and difficult than they at first appear. But in that case the two hospitals concerned were ten miles apart and connected by some of the best roads in the country.

West Cumberland and the nearest alternative maternity hospitals are forty miles and at least an hour's drive apart, sometimes rather longer, on some of the most difficult main roads on the country.

I believe that taking maternity away from WCH is not a runner for that reason. The trust must find a way to continue to provide safe maternity cover locally in West Cumbria.

The Whitehaven News reports next month an independent team of experts is coming to West Cumberland Hospital to look at the maternity department, speak to staff and then compile a report for health bosses to consider.

A class one Caesarean section (when there is immediate threat to the mother or baby) has to be carried out within 30 minutes. A class two (mother or baby is compromised but not immediately life-threatening) has to be delivered within 75 minutes.
The Whitehaven News understands that neither a Caesarean section nor assisted delivery can be carried out in an ambulance. A doctor, who does not wish to be named, says that if a baby or mother is in distress en route in an ambulance – there is very little that can be done.
The journey to Carlisle from some parts of Copeland can take up to two hours – and that is not taking into account the potential for roadworks, bad weather or accidents along the way.
The paper has invited their readers, to join them in a campaign to stop any threat to WCH maternity services becoming a reality.They certainly have my support.

The unit was last under threat in 2005 but this was eventually lifted in 2007.
Health chiefs are once again looking at the option of removing the full maternity service from West Cumberland Hospital and making it midwifery-led, with consultants based in Carlisle. Local NHS chiefs say they are struggling to recruit doctors and anaesthetists.

In a recent report, patient watchdog, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), described the West Cumberland Hospital’s maternity service as “not sufficiently safe” and said the North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust needed to ensure an anaesthetist was available at all times for maternity and a second theatre for obstetric and gynaecology use.
The Trust says it is trying to recruit but the problem remains in attracting resident doctors and consultant anaesthetists.
A spokesman for the Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “Ensuring safe and sustainable maternity care for the long term presents a big challenge for the NHS in Cumbria.
“On the one hand we need to make sure that we meet national standards and provide the safest possible services and on the other we need to take into consideration the geography and the needs and wishes of women and their families. There is no easy solution.
“We would like to stress again that the position of the CCG remains that we would wish to continue to commission a consultant-led maternity service in the future but that we must be mindful of the challenges facing North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust and also of the concerns raised by the Care Quality Commission. We would also like to reassure local women and their families that we understand their concerns and that no permanent significant changes can be made without public consultation.”


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