Low birth rate puts Scunthorpe General Hospital maternity unit under review
A REVIEW is under way into the future of maternity services at Scunthorpe General Hospital.
Health officials say that too few babies are currently being born at the town's maternity unit each year.
And bosses at the North Lincolnshire clinical commissioning group say overall quality of care at the trust needs to improve.
The maternity unit – which has 72 full-time midwives – is one of a number of areas being looked at by health officials in a study.
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Allison Cooke, chief officer designate for the group, said that as part of the review not every service will stay as it is.
Yet asked by the Telegraph whether Scunthorpe's maternity unit could shut, she would only say: "There is not an answer."
Mrs Cooke said: "Maternity is currently delivered at Scunthorpe and Grimsby hospitals, so we have been looking at it, as well as areas such as critical care and intensive care.
"Currently just under 2,000 babies are delivered at Scunthorpe General every year.
"We have been looking at the projected birth rate and seen that this will climb a little bit and then stay at a flat rate, if not decline.
"Women are having babies later in life and from the perspective of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists we have a low number of births at Scunthorpe."
She said that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says units of around 2,000 deliveries per year are only just safe and ideally should have a unit that sees a minimum of 5,000 deliveries per year.
The royal college said it did not recognise the figures Mrs Cooke quoted, but a spokeswoman did say: "Maternity units with low delivery rates cannot provide the best 24 hour care to patients."
But Mrs Cooke said there were a number of options on the table with regards to the maternity unit.
And even as the review goes ahead, £64,198 has been earmarked to improve and upgrade services.
"There is a need for a maternity unit in Scunthorpe, but every service will not stay as it currently is," she said.
"We would always offer women choice in regards to where they give birth and are looking at home birth options.
"We would not close anything unless we could improve it."
When asked by the Telegraph to clarify what this meant, the commissioning group said it would only be making changes in areas that would benefit – and would not make them just to save money.
Mrs Cooke said the sustainable services review is required because an improvement is needed in the health care provided.
Her words come just months after a damning report criticised North Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, for high death rates.
She said: "Scunthorpe General is a busy hospital and sometimes care can be compromised.
"The hospital is currently not getting as good an outcome as it should and the quality of care at present is not what it should be.
"Where we are aware there are issues regarding quality and safety of services, outcomes for patients or future viability of services, we have a responsibility to look at how these might be addressed.
"Things cannot stay the same because of quality concerns, low outcomes and budget constraints."
Mrs Cooke also said services could be centralised – although how many, which ones or where was not revealed.
"For example, major trauma surgeons who regularly practise the same operation have better outcomes," she said.
"Therefore, centralising services so we surgeons are used to doing the same operation is better.
"We may centralise areas of health care in order to get better outcomes.
"For example, a lot of cancer care is now given in Hull as they have specialist surgeons and equipment.
"However, if we can provide the services on the South Bank then we will."
News of the review has triggered concerns about where it might lead.
Harold Edwards, public governor for Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We have heard nothing about maternity services being closed down.
"Maternity services at Scunthorpe are well used and needed.
"It is an essential service that we offer but one never knows what the long-term plans are.
"I can't see any reason why they would shut the maternity service.
"Some services are in need of centralising, but I cannot see why they would shut maternity and it would be of major concern if they chose to do so."
Union members said they would be keeping a close eye on the review.
Gill Adgie, northern England regional head at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: "We expect complete transparency and to be consulted with regarding the sustainable services review in Northern Lincolnshire.
"As new NHS bodies take responsibility for health and social care services across England, the RCM will welcome the opportunity to have frank and open discussions with commissioners and providers of maternity services.
"This is to ensure that women and families in the area continue to have a real choice about where they receive their maternity care and give birth to their baby, wherever they are in northern Lincolnshire."
John Hill, secretary of Scunthorpe branch of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "I am planning to call the hospital to discuss the plans.
"I have concerns about any changes that may affect my members."
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