Plans to axe the only maternity unit in the London borough with the third highest birthrate were today described as “madness”.
GPs were this afternoon deciding whether to end births at Ealing hospital from next March in the latest stage of a move to provide maternity services at six “super hospitals” in north and west London.
Ealing clinical commissioning group, which controls the budget for maternity services, is considering whether to endorse the Shaping a Healthier Future masterplan for the NHS in north west London and close Ealing’s maternity department.
This would almost certainly be followed within three months with the removal of the hospital’s paediatric services and emergency and in-patient gynaecology. Ealing’s A&E is also due to be downgraded at a later date.
Ealing council leader Julian Bell said: “We oppose it vehemently. Closure will mean expectant mothers travelling further to give birth and this can only increase the risks and dangers to both mother and child.
“It is madness to leave Ealing without a maternity unit when we have one of the highest increases in birthrate in London. The Prime Minister denied that this closure would happen, highlighting the recent £2m investment in Ealing’s maternity unit. We will fight it every inch of the way.”
Dr Onkar Sahota, Labour chairman of the London Assembly health committee, said: “After the debacle of the A&E closures in North West London and the London Ambulance Service at breaking point this is not the time to be closing services. All this will do is to place further pressure on hospitals which are already ‘running hot’ and struggling to cope.”
A report being presented by Shaping a Healthier Future medical director Mike Anderson says the shortage of consultant cover at Ealing – specialists are on duty just 60 hours a week – means expectant mothers do not receive the same quality of care as at neighbouring hospitals.
This means there is an “increasing risk that services will become unsafe” and that allowing the unit to continue operating as normal is a “significant and increasing risk to the public”.
Of the 2,884 births at Ealing in 2012/13, 504 were by emergency Caesarean while 329 required the use of medical instruments such as forceps or ventouse suction cup.
In March, the Care Quality Commission watchdog found that maternity staff at Ealing were not always following guidelines on counting needles and swabs, placing women at risk after delivery. In February 2013, a “never event” – a medical blunder so serious it should never have happened – was recorded when a swab was left inside a mother.
In August, the CQC reported difficulties at Northwick Park’s maternity department – one of the hospitals that would see a rise in births if Ealing’s unit were axed.
Dr Mohini Parmar, Ealing GP and Ealing CCG chairwoman, said: “Ealing hospital maternity unit is currently a safe place for women to give birth. The standards for maternity units are changing and we know that in future Ealing may struggle to meet those standards. This could lead to an unplanned closure which is not fair on women or staff.
“These plans are about improving care for women across north west London. We can do this by increasing consultant cover and investing in six maternity units in NW London, rather than the current seven.”