A councillor has questioned whether a 12-month countdown for maternity services in west Cumbria should be allowed to begin before new arrangements are in place.

Speaking at a meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee, Neil Hughes challenged NHS bosses on whether the clock should start ticking before key changes have happened.

It follows the controversial Success Regime consultation about the future of health services in north and west Cumbria, which put forward three possible options for maternity.

Following widespread opposition, the NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) governing body agreed not to centralise services in Carlisle immediately.

Instead they haven given Whitehaven's West Cumberland Hospital 12 months - starting from April 1 this year - to recruit key staff.

However the option they agreed (option 1) will still see some changes to the service currently available in Whitehaven.

Although consultant-led maternity will be retained for now, changes to paediatrics mean that between 100 and 200 more births will have to take place at Carlisle's Cumberland Infirmary.

Yet no start date for these new arrangements has yet been agreed, prompting concern that the 12-month countdown should be delayed.

Mr Hughes said: "Option 1 was about testing the viability over 12 months. I do not see how that can happen if this option isn't in place."

He went as far as suggesting that, if a decision about maternity is made before the new arrangements have been in place for a year, it could be a 'substantial variation' of what was previously agreed.

But Peter Rooney, chief operating officer at the CCG, insisted this was not the case, saying they never agreed that option 1 had to be in place for a full year. He stressed that the 12 months was largely about whether they could recruit staff to make the service viable long term.

He added: "The position of the governing body is that we are very keen to see it (the consultant-led service) continue.

"That's still absolutely our intention, subject to being able to do that in a safe and sustainable way."

Mr Hughes also raised concerns that the CCG was not fully involving the community in the changes, saying the Working Together co-production group - set up to get local people, NHS staff and bosses around a table - should have had a say on the start date.

But Mr Rooney said although that group did not make any formal recommendations, there had been a discussion at its last meeting and members were being kept fully informed.

The discussion - at the scrutiny committee's latest meeting in Carlisle - followed a wider update on the plans that were agreed by the CCG last March, following the Success Regime consultation.

  • A meeting of the Working Together maternity co-production group, due to take place tonight at Allerdale House in Workington, has also been cancelled due to adverse weather conditions.

The monthly meetings are a chance for the wider community to get involved in efforts to sustain consultant-led maternity services at the West Cumberland Hospital.

It will be rescheduled in due course.