Maternity units safe, say hospitals

MARK NICHOLLS Bosses at several hospitals across the region have rejected Tory claims that maternity units were under threat.

MARK NICHOLLS

Bosses at several hospitals across the region today rejected Tory claims that maternity units were under threat.

The Conservatives today released a list of 43 maternity units which they said have been closed are under the threat of closure or being downgraded: including those at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn; James Paget University Hospital at Gorleston; and the West Suffolk Hospital at Bury St Edmund's.

The claim came as cabinet minister Hazel Blears was accused of hypocrisy after taking part in a campaign to save the maternity unit in a hospital in her constituency.

North Norfolk MP and Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “This is astonishing behaviour from Hazel Blears - you cannot back a policy on the national stage and then campaign against it in your own constituency.

“The next time Tony Blair or Patricia Hewitt tries to reassure people that its cuts are in the best interests of patients, the public will be entitled to point out that a fellow cabinet member apparently disagrees.”

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The Tory list included 29 units (67pc) in constituencies held by opposition MPs and 26 units (60pc) operated by NHS trusts which ended the 2005/06 financial year in deficit.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “Maternity units are the latest frontline service to bear the brunt of Labour's financial mismanagement of the NHS. The government talk about delivering choice to mothers, but cutbacks are taking that choice away.”

The East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA) is currently undertaking a review of acute services in the region, which includes maternity services.

Barbara James, head of midwifery and nursing at the QEH, said: “We are aware that the trust is being looked at and also aware that the SHA is undertaking an acute services review, which includes maternity as one component of that, but we do not feel that we are at any greater risk than anywhere else.”

She said that with QEH, covering large rural areas, that geography would be a factor in any debate over the future of its maternity service.

West Suffolk Hospital at Bury St Edmunds said the matter was one for the SHA as part of its acute services review.

Fran O'Driscoll, divisional manager for women and children's services at JPH said there was no threat to its maternity services and some services are being actively developed.

“There have been no discussions whatsoever about the closure of our maternity unit with either the Strategic Health Authority or the Great Yarmouth and Waveney Primary Care Trust. On average we deliver just over 2,000 babies every year and we regularly receive women in labour from neighbouring trusts to deliver here,” she said.

Earlier, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital had rejected suggestions that its maternity unit - with just under 5,000 births a year - was under threat.