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Maternity and A&E units safe

PUBLISHED: 10:58 29 July 2008 | UPDATED: 11:28 03 July 2010

No maternity units or accident and emergency departments will close at any of the region's hospitals, NHS bosses pledged yesterday.

Concerns had been voiced about the future of A&E departments and in particular maternity units at smaller hospitals including the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, the James Paget University Hospital at Gorleston and the West Suffolk Hospital at Bury St Edmunds.

No maternity units or accident and emergency departments will close at any of the region's hospitals, NHS bosses pledged yesterday.

Concerns had been voiced about the future of A&E departments and in particular maternity units at smaller hospitals including the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, the James Paget University Hospital at Gorleston and the West Suffolk Hospital at Bury St Edmunds.

These fears have been quashed - but more travelling for consultants and for patients needing major operations is on the cards as the region's health authority looks to create regional centres for major surgery.

A year ago the Conservative Party issued a list of hospitals claiming maternity services were under threat, including the QEH - although its accuracy was hotly debated.

The East of England NHS did publish a document in December 2006 which said that “to be efficient” a maternity unit should have 3,000 births a year, rising to 4,000 when new guidelines come into place increasing the number of hours a consultant should be on the ward. Because the new rules say a consultant should be on hand 60 hours a week rather than 40, each birth will be more expensive unless there are more births. The QEH, JPH and WSH all have fewer than 2,500 births a year.

The same report said a hospital should have a catchment area of 300,000 people to perform emergency surgery - which the three hospitals do not.

Neil McKay, chief executive of NHS East of England, said: “We intend to ensure all obstetric units will stay in all 17 acute trusts, including King's Lynn. We believe we can put to rest for years, if not forever, the argument about whether smaller maternity units are viable. We are committed to all A&E departments continuing to operate in perpetuity.”

Simon Wood, director of service reconfiguration for NHS East of England, said: “What we were concerned about was whether these small units could provide the level of service. To the extent that it is necessary, we think primary care trusts (PCTs) should be prepared to fund those units up to an extra £500,000 a year to enable them to have the same staffing levels as larger units. The PCTs are in agreement that to maintain local access they need to be prepared to fund them.”

But A&E patients needing major surgery may have to travel further - or in some cases the surgeon may do the travelling. Mr Wood said: “What is possible is that we might have consultants working across hospitals. The situation might be different in and out of hours…we want people to work out what their local solutions are. More and more surgery is becoming specialised.”

QEH spokesman Richard Humphries said: “We are one of the best performing maternity units in the east of England…If you closed down our maternity unit patients would have a huge journey to make, often in difficult circumstances.”

JPH chief executive Adrian Pennington said: “We consider our accident and emergency department to be of sufficient size to warrant services always being provided here in Gorleston, particularly given the volume of visitors to the area. We welcome the support of Neil McKay and acknowledge the continuing support of Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT towards maintaining both A&E and maternity services in their entirety here.”

A spokesman for West Suffolk Hospital said: “We welcome this pledge as it will ensure that stability is maintained within an important service which is highly valued by our patients.”

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