Midwives today warned that pregnant women could be placed at risk by the imminent closure of a London maternity unit.
They said the unit, at Ealing hospital, was “rotting away in front of our eyes” due to uncertainty over its future. Staff have quit and about 150 mothers-to-be a month are being left unsure where they will give birth.
The letter, endorsed by about 90 of the hospital’s 120 midwives and passed to the Evening Standard, raises new questions about the Shaping A Healthier Future centralisation of A&E and maternity services in west London “super hospitals”.
The warning, copied to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said there had been “a systematic erosion of highly-skilled and valued individuals and an indescribable loss to the midwifery profession”.
It added: “We fear for our futures and for the future of the women we care for… How many mothers’ lives will be lost?”
Ealing clinical commissioning group had been expected to confirm last month that Ealing’s maternity unit would close in March. But a decision is now not due until next month at the earliest – with officials unable to say how long the unit will remain open.
Last week, the Care Quality Commission criticised Hillingdon hospital for “inadequate” numbers of midwives – sparking fears it will be unable to cope with extra births diverted from Ealing.
Hillingdon declared maternity alerts four times last September, and was forced to close its doors on one occasion, because it was struggling with the number of admissions and there was a risk of unsafe care. Home births had to be suspended twice when midwives were required on wards, inspectors found.
Last year the CQC raised concerns about other west London hospitals safeguarded under the Shaping A Healthier Future plan. St Mary’s, Chelsea and Westminster and Northwick Park were all found to be requiring improvement – with the latter’s maternity department judged “inadequate”.
A Shaping A Healthier Future spokeswoman said 91 per cent of Ealing midwives had received their first-choice transfer to another hospital.
She said: “Throughout this process we have had many conversations with midwives and understand their frustrations. The expertise of our dedicated and knowledgeable staff is critical to us.
“The delays have occurred because we need to be assured that the new arrangements are clinically safe for mothers – a priority we share with our staff.”
Hillingdon hospital said the CQC report was “fair” and efforts were being made to recruit more permanent staff. Chief executive Shane DeGaris said: “We aim to provide the highest standards of care to all our patients and we will use this report to help us make improvements wherever they are needed.”