Sunday, 30 August 2015

Hundreds share their concerns about Furness General Hospital maternity move

HOW can a woman giving birth in the back of an ambulance be safe? How will the ambulance service deal with the increased demand of transferring women with complicated labours 50 miles down the road? What if there is bad weather, an accident or roadworks holding up traffic? And what happens if, when those women get to Lancaster, the maternity unit is full?

These were just some of the dozens of questions asked at an emergency public meeting held on Friday night, following Thursday’s announcement that Furness General Hospital’s consultant-led maternity service and special care baby unit are to be temporarily transferred to Lancaster due to a staffing crisis.

But the only people who stood a chance of answering them were not there.

No representative from the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, which runs FGH, attended the event, which saw the Greengate Infant School hall packed with around 250 people.

The room was as full with emotion as it was with bodies, the atmosphere rigid with distress, anxiety and confusion, yet also anger, solidarity and determination.

While speeches and questions drew regular rounds of applause, cheers and shouts of “hear, hear”, some women sat and sobbed throughout. Others simply looked shellshocked.

Mandy Telford, leader of the Thousand Voices campaign, chaired the meeting.

She launched her drive against any potential downgrading of FGH maternity last month, fearing that an ongoing review of UHMBT’s services could result in the removal of consultant-led care.

Describing Thursday’s announcement as “suspicious”, her voice rising and breaking with emotion, the mum-of-two said: “They’ve gone behind our backs and they’ve done it, and I’m terrified it’s never coming back.”

Ms Telford and her husband, Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock, were supported at the meeting by Doctor Geoff Jolliffe.

Dr Jolliffe is the lead Furness GP on the county-wide commissioning team responsible for deciding how healthcare is provided in Cumbria.

He was met with rapturous applause after he said: “I don’t believe this is a ploy to remove services permanently, but I can’t prove it to you and I understand the concern. We have been working with the trust on a plan to redesign all services in the hospital. Our intention is to see a consultant-led maternity service. We don’t know if we can achieve that yet, but we are striving for that because we know that’s what you want and we think that’s what you need.”

Dr Jolliffe said he and his colleagues wanted proof from UHMBT that the current move was definitely the only option and was truly temporary.

The commissioners have given the trust until Monday to provide proof of both, hospital bosses having said the service will be transferred from Tuesday and the situation reviewed in two weeks.

Dr Jolliffe said: “We’ve asked for a recovery plan, not just a verbal commitment.

“We want to know how they’re going to bring it back, what they’re going to do, things like training and recruitment.”

But he admitted the trust could go ahead without the commissioners’ permission.

For some, the desperation of the situation simply became too much.

One distraught mum broke down in tears as she told how, 38 weeks pregnant and classified as a high-risk pregnancy, she had no idea what her child’s birth held for her.

Natalie Turner has to see a consultant on her due date, February 14, because her first child was born by emergency caesarean.

The 31-year-old, of West View Road, Barrow, said: “When I was told yesterday, I was absolutely devastated.

“I just feel like it’s been absolutely thrown on me – and there’s no information.

“If I don’t have my baby here on Monday, I’ll have to travel to Lancaster. What about my two-year-old son?”

Having listened to several similar stories and concerns, Mr Woodcock said: “I wish I wasn’t here, watching heavily pregnant women crying.

“I wish I could say that I can fix this, that I can do this and that and everything will be OK. But no individual can do that. We have to stand up and be counted together.”

Bringing the meeting to a close, Ms Telford echoed her husband’s sentiments, telling those gathered they need to plan decisive action to stop the move.

Pledging to stage demonstrations if her campaign continues to be ignored in its current form, she said: “When we thought we had a few months in consultation, I was going to plan a public meeting with the trust.

“I’m going to have that meeting, in The Forum, in the next two or three weeks, and I will get the whole of Barrow there if I have to. We are not going to lie down and let this happen.

“We’re so passionate in this room, and we’re so cross, the trust would be damned foolish to say no to all of us.

“They must come to that public meeting so we can ask them these questions then and there.”


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