Study launched in battle to save maternity services in West Cumbria

23 March 2017 10:50AM

Securing consultant-led maternity services at the West Cumberland Hospital now relies on anaesthetists, bosses say.

Throughout the recent Success Regime consultation the focus was on the need to recruit permanent obstetricians and crucially paediatricians, without which Whitehaven’s special care baby unit could not operate.

But now the trust that runs the Carlisle and Whitehaven hospitals has commissioned a new independent review of anesthetics.

But campaigners say that regardless of how many reviews are carried out, the only answer local people will be happy with is that full consultant-led maternity services will be retained at the West Cumberland Hospital permanently.

NHS Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) last week agreed a 12-month reprieve to see if high profile recruitment problems could be addressed.

If successful, consultant-led maternity will stay in Whitehaven but if not, it will be centralised in Carlisle, leaving only a midwife-led unit.

To address recruitment, a steering committee will be set up, with representatives from the local community, to oversee the efforts.

The CCG governing body also said this process would be reviewed by an independent panel with input from Royal College experts.

Now North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust has commissioned the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA) to undertake a review.

Rod Harpin, medical director, said anaesthetic cover is essential to consultant-led maternity - but there are shortages.

“As discussions have progressed concerning maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital, it has become clear that more detailed information is required regarding our anaesthetic provision,” he explained.

“A lot of our work to date on maternity services has focussed on paediatrics which is logical given the medical recruitment challenges we face.

“However, anaesthetics is also an essential service in providing consultant-led maternity services and it has local and national shortages, therefore we must look closely at how we can plan to provide our anaesthetics service in the long term.

“The independent clinical advice from the Royal College review will highlight any safety issues that need to be considered and we will feed their findings into the independent steering group which will be set up to look at our maternity services provision with our staff, stakeholders and local community.”

But Whitehaven county councillor Christine Wharrier, who is fighting to save local services, questioned the motives of the review.

“Is this new review because it is realised we have lost all confidence in the CCG and trust executives?” she asked.“No matter how many reviews we have the community knows what it wants, they want safe services that are not 40 miles away.”

The review is set to take place next month, with a report due back in May.

The trust says it will provide independent clinical advice on any safety issues that need to be considered and inform how future services are designed.

“This review will also feed into the independent steering group announced as part of the maternity recommendation and we expect will involve members of our staff, community and other clinicians,” added Dr Harpin.

It is not yet clear if this anaesthetics review is the same as the review of recruitment suggested by Copeland’s new Conservative MP Trudy Harrison when she was elected and later mentioned by Prime Minister Theresa May in Parliament.

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