The East Sussex Primary Care Trusts (East Sussex Downs & Weald PCT and Hastings & Rother PCT) today received a copy of the decision from the Secretary of State for Health to accept the advice of the government’s Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) on proposals for changes to maternity services in East Sussex.
The IRP strongly supported the PCTs’ proposals to improve antenatal and postnatal care and associated outreach services but it said that consultant-led maternity services should be retained on both the Conquest Hospital site in Hastings and the District General Hospital site in Eastbourne. The IRP confirms that change needs to occur in order to sustain quality and ensure future safe medical staffing levels.
Vanessa Harris, the interim Chief Executive of East Sussex PCTs, said, “The IRP’s advice contains some very useful observations and I confirm that we accept its recommendations. We are determined to provide the very best services for local mothers and children and we will now work up a model of care that ensures the continuation of consultant-led maternity services, special care baby services and inpatient gynaecology services in both Hastings and Eastbourne.”
The IRP said it was “impressed by the thoroughness of aspects of the consultation and proposal development” and acknowledged that “a great deal of hard work was put into both drawing up the consultation document and the subsequent follow-on work.”
The IRP advice also points out that since the end of the consultation new guidance on small consultant-led maternity units, published just three months ago, suggests there might be ways of maintaining smaller maternity units. The IRP advice says this new advice offers “alternative approaches to maintaining small units which could be revisited in the light of guidance published since the consultation was carried out.”
Vanessa Harris said, “The IRP advice indicates quite clearly that the PCTs faced a very tough and very close decision. Should we have placed greater emphasis upon the time it would take pregnant women to travel to a consultant-led maternity unit or greater emphasis upon the need for the very best consultant skills training?. We did our best to consider these competing concerns and resolved to base consultant-led maternity services in Hastings alone. On balance the IRP felt the right decision was to keep consultant-led maternity services in both Hastings and Eastbourne. The IRP exists in order to ensure that tough decisions like this can be subject to an independent second opinion. This is an example of NHS decision-making working as it should.”
The East Sussex PCTs will now:
• Develop a service model that keeps consultant-led maternity services, special care baby services and inpatient gynaecology services on both the Hastings and Eastbourne sites
• Further develop its comprehensive strategy for maternity and related services in East Sussex
• Develop an improved process to ensure the closer involvement of local people in planning health services
Within a month the PCTs will publish a comprehensive plan for taking forward the commitments outlined above.