11th hour bid to put back decision on Melton baby unit

An 11th hour bid has been made to force the health authorities into postponing tomorrow’s (Tuesday’s) decision on proposals to revamp local hospitals and close Melton’s baby unit, to give more time for the public to review the findings of a public consultation into the plans.

By Nick Rennie
Monday, 7th June 2021, 2:29 pm
St Mary's Birth Centre in Melton EMN-210106-172415001
St Mary's Birth Centre in Melton EMN-210106-172415001

Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutlands’ Clinical Commissioning Groups (LLR CCGs) have organised an online daytime meeting to decide on the £450million project less than a fortnight after publishing their 761-page report into the responses in their three-month survey.

We reported last week that members of the Save St Mary’s Birth Centre group wanted a public meeting to be held in the evening, when more people could take part, and at a later date, so the extensive report could be properly digested by members of the public.

And their views are now echoed by another campaigning group, Save Our NHS Leicestershire, and, significantly, the health and Wellbeing scrutiny committee for Leicester City Council, which is tasked with reviewing local healthcare decisions.

Committee chair, Patrick Kitterick, said decisions on the plans, including the proposed closure of Melton’s St Mary’s and Leicester General Hospital as an acute hospital, were too important to rush through and that he had ‘deep concerns’ about the process being carried out by the health authority.

In an open letter to Andy Williams, the joint-chief executive for the CCGs, he writes: “The consequences of the potential decisions on June 8 will be far reaching and affect Leicester, Leicestershire, and Rutland for decades to come and potentially will see an effective closure of a hospital and a maternity unit.

“To rush to a decision without the proper opportunity for public scrutiny is a mistake which I would urge the Board Meeting of LLR’s CCG to avoid.”

He was critical of the CCGs for not yet publishing their Decision-Making Business Case, with the meeting set to begin at 1.30pm tomorrow, and added that ‘the lack of transparency around the delivery of public services and the potential disposal of public assets is of deep concern’.

In a damning statement in his letter, he writes: “Unfortunately, given the potential timetable a conclusion that can be made is that the information has not been released to avoid scrutiny of the decision-making process.

“The notification of the board meeting scheduled during the working day and short notice has meant that I personally cannot get out of work to attend. “I can imagine that many others are in a similar position.

“I would, therefore, strongly urge you to delay any decision making until a chance has been given for the public to fully examine the documents upon which the decision has been made.”

Save our NHS Leicestershire supports investment in the hospitals through the planned overhaul, which also include building the first single-site dedicated children’s hospital in the East Midlands and creating a new maternity hospital at Leicester Royal Infirmary plus the expanding of Glenfield Hospital by a third to create a planned care treatment centre for operations and emergency procedures.

But the group says it has identified several major flaws in the original proposals and it has also issued an open letter to Mr Williams, asking him to postpone the final decision about the hospital services until proper scrutiny of public responses has taken place.

They are particularly critical of the CCGs failing so far to publish one of tomorrow’s meeting’s key documents – which sets out the final expected decisions and the reasoning behind these decisions.

The public are invited to attend the meeting online and ask a question at it – providing they book in advance – but they will not have the opportunity to read the relevant decision document before the final decisions have been made.

The group’s, Tom Barker, said: “Why is it that the people of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland find again that we have a local NHS leadership which is so lacking in transparency?

“Yet again, they have refused to involve the public in a meaningful way and plan instead to push ahead regardless of the views of others.

“We have been asking for the analysis of public responses to the consultation to be publicly scrutinised.

“We wanted the insights of scrutiny to be fed into the decision-making process but the CCG leaders think they know better.”

Campaigners continue to battle to keep St Mary’s Birth Centre, in Melton, because they want women in rural areas to have a choice over where to have their baby and somewhere which is more accessible than Leicester.

They refute suggestions that the unit is underused an no longer financially viable and say it has not been publicised widely enough around the county.

If proposals are passed tomorrow, the baby unit will be closed and relocated to a standalone midwifery-ledf service at Leicester General Hospital, but only on a short term trial basis at first.

Three petitions with more than signatories have been submitted to the CCGs calling for them to keep St Mary’s going in the town.

And Helen Cliff, of the Save St Mary’s Birth Centre group, said: “These proposals represent a huge change in the offer of maternity and postnatal care for Melton Mowbray and beyond.

“I would like to see that reflected more honestly by the decision-making process in response to these findings – not just with a ‘rubber-stamp attitude’ at a meeting, so soon after the publication of reports.”

Melton MP, Alicia Kearns, said she had focused on getting the views of Melton people heard with regard to the hospitals revamp plans both during and after the consultation exercise.

She told the Melton Times: “Over the last few months I’ve worked to ensure that the concerns and wishes of residents about the future of St Mary’s Birthing Unit and the consultation around its future were heard by decision-makers.

“This included securing changes to the consultation response form to make it easier to have your say, and to be able to respond only on the future of St Mary’s, as well as securing commitments to investigate how St Mary’s could be protected in some form.

“Since the announcement of the meeting on June 8, I have been pushing to ensure that residents continue to have mechanisms to voice their concerns and influence the final outcome of the Building Better Hospitals programme.

“And I continue to push to get their voices heard.”