Fears for maternity units

FEARS were raised for the future of two of the region's maternity units last night after they were included in a list of closure-threatened services.The consultant-led wards at James Paget Hospital, in Gorleston, and West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds, are said to be under threat of being downgraded or closed.

FEARS were raised for the future of two of the region's maternity units last night after they were included in a list of closure-threatened services.

The consultant-led wards at James Paget Hospital, in Gorleston, and West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds, are said to be under threat of being downgraded or closed.

The Conservative Party, which produced the list, named the East of England Health Authority as the source of its information.

Last night, a spokesman for the authority said there were no immediate plans to close maternity units in the region but could not rule out such a move in future.


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A review of all clinical services in the region is currently under way and will be completed by the autumn.

The spokesman said: “There may well be changes resulting from that but we don't yet know whether maternity units will be affected.”

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West Suffolk Hospital last night refused to comment on the future of its maternity ward, while James Paget Hospital denied it had any closure plans.

Wendy Slaney, chief executive of James Paget, said: “Our maternity unit is not closing.

“We have a strong reputation and continue to develop our maternity services, recently opening a new birthing pool, which is very popular. As a foundation trust, we have a bright future ahead of us.”

Gill Malik, Bury St Edmunds Unison national executive member, said she would be extremely concerned if West Suffolk Hospital's maternity unit were to close.

She said: “I don't see how you can expect mums to go to Ipswich or Cambridge because babies don't wait.

“It has had a lot of money spent on it over the years and it would be crazy to close it. We are a growing town and we must keep our maternity services in Bury.”

The Tories produced the list of wards that have closed or been threatened with closure following news that cabinet minister Hazel Blears had joined a protest over plans to close part of a hospital in her constituency.

The Labour Party chairwoman rejected accusations of hypocrisy after she joined a picket line outside Hope Hospital in Salford in the days before Christmas to protest against the decision to close the baby unit as part of an overhaul of NHS services in Greater Manchester.

Campaigners from the group Health Emergency have accused Ms Blears of riding on the back of local protests while being complicit in central Government policies which have resulted in cuts in hospitals up and down the country.

Shadow health secretary, Andrew Lansley, said: “The Government talk about delivering choice to mothers, but cutbacks are taking that choice away.

“There is little logic behind these reconfigurations - the only pattern appears to be that units with fewer than 3,000 births a year are being targeted for closure.

“Once again, the consequence of deficits is that accessible local services will be denied to patients.”

The 43-name list published included 29 units (67%) in constituencies held by opposition MPs and 26 units (60%) operated by NHS trusts which ended the 2005/06 financial year in deficit.

Ipswich Hospital's maternity unit was not among those named as closure-threatened and, on Thursday, bosses are due to consider creating a new central delivery suite for maternity services on the Heath Road site.

The hospital's board has been urged to approve developing a business case for the £1.2million scheme.

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