Decision set to be taken on fate of Melton baby unit
The fate of Melton’s baby unit, which is threatened with closure as part of a £450million reorganisation of local hospital services, will be decided at a health authority meeting next week.
Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutlands’ Clinical Commissioning Groups (LLR CCGs) are hosting the daytime online meeting on Tuesday June 8 following a public consultation between September and December last year.
Members of the public will be able to ask questions at the Extraordinary Governing Body meeting, which runs from 1.30pm until 3.30pm.
But campaigners say people have not been given enough time to read and digest the results of the consultation, which have only just been released in a document spanning 760 pages.
And they have voiced concerns that decisions on the vital issues are being rushed through and ‘rubber-stamped’ without proper considered discussion and debate.
If proposals on the reordering of maternity services are approved at the meeting it will mean Melton’s St Mary’s Birth Centre closing and a new standalone midwifery-led service starting in its place at the Leicester General Hospital, but as a 12-month trial with no guarantee it would be a permanent facility.
Helen Cliff, of the Save St Mary’s Birth Centre group, criticised the timing of next week’s meeting because she said parents looking after small children or on school runs and people who are working during the day would be unable to take part.
She said: “It’s deeply frustrating that the public aren’t being treated more fairly at this stage with a proper public meeting, which is easier to attend and with enough time given to digest the necessary information beforehand.
“The timescale at work rather begs the question of why the findings couldn’t have been released to the public back in March, or why a meeting as quick as June 8 to rush through this stage, is strictly necessary.
“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.
“The whole thing feels nothing more than tokenistic.”
The overall Leicester hospitals revamp would provide 139 more hospital beds and move all acute care - patients receiving treatment for severe injury or illness, urgent medical conditions and those recovering from surgery - to the Leicester Royal Infirmary (LRI) and to Glenfield Hospital.
Proposals also include the first single-site dedicated children’s hospital in the East Midlands at Leicester Royal Infirmary and the expanding of Glenfield Hospital by a third to create a planned care treatment centre for operations and emergency procedures.
But it was the plans for maternity provision which attracted the largest level of public engagement, with a new maternity hospital also being mooted at the LRI.
Members of the public who responded, overwhelmingly indicated their expectation that a free-standing midwifery-led birth centre would be retained as part of the plans.
Health bosses say St Mary’s is under-used - there were 141 babies born there in the year 2018-19 when it requires 500 to remain viable - and that it is not accessible for the majority of women across Leicestershire.
But campaigners say it has not been publicised enough by the authority to prompt more women to use it and that a baby unit should be provided outside the city to make it easier to get to for families in rural areas.
Mrs Cliff, who had two of her children at the Melton birth centre and used the after-care services there, is concerned that the replacement baby unit being considered is only listed as a trial service.
“It is disappointing there is still no indication of a commitment beyond the temporary trial, particularly as stand-alone units such as St. Mary’s, remain one of the four types of place of birth which are part of the ‘good quality’ standard set out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence,” she said.
The findings of the UHL Building Better Hospitals For The Future consultation show that more people disagree with the proposals to ‘relocate’ St Mary’s Birth Centre, than agree.
The top concern expressed during the exercise was how much harder it would be to access a city-based unit for people living in rural parts of Leicestershire and Rutland.
In response to the findings, Tom Barker, of Save Our NHS Leicestershire, said: “Apart from people’s worries about travel and access, there were more comments about this issue than about anything else in the consultation.
“Some respondents want the birth centre to be located on the site of the Leicester General Hospital, others want St Mary’s to be retained, but they
are all expecting it to be somewhere.
“Getting rid of this provision entirely should now be off the table.
“We expect that our local NHS leaders will respond to this public expectation and will confirm that a free-standing midwife led birth centre will continue to be available to expectant mothers in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.”
If a decision is taken to close Melton’s baby unit, the health authority say it would maintain community maternity services in the town.
They pledge to ensure there is support for home births and care before and after the baby is born in the Melton area.
Any women who have a complicated pregnancy would be able to access antenatal care in an outpatient service located at Leicester Royal Infirmary or in remote/virtual clinics.
The health authority say a total of 5,675 people took part in the various elements of the consultation.
In addition, three different petitions, signed by a total of nearly 6,500 people, were submitted calling for maternity services to remain at St Mary’s Birth Centre because of the high quality of care there and the reduced accessibility if it was relocated to Leicester.
***Anyone interested in attending the June 8 meeting online or who wants to ask a question at it must email [email protected] by noon the day before.
***Go online at www.leicestercityccg.nhs.uk/news/ccg-news/members-of-the-public-invited-to-llr-ccgs-extraordinary-governing-body-meeting-in-public/ to read the results of the public consultation into the reorganisation of hospital services.