Fury over leaked maternity letter

FURY erupted last nightafter it emerged that a health boss has claimed a maternity unit shut through staff shortages was in danger of shutting on "clinical risk grounds".

FURY erupted last nightafter it emerged that a health boss has claimed a maternity unit shut through staff shortages was in danger of shutting on "clinical risk grounds".

The claim comes in a confidential letter from Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust chief executive Mike Pollard to North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin. Mr Jenkin gave it to the Hands off our Hospital campaign group, which leaked it to the media yesterday.

Mr Pollard told Mr Jenkin Harwich Hospital maternity unit has been shut down due to midwife shortages at Colchester General Hospital. But he added confidential information about clinical risk.

He wrote: "The head of midwifery and our consultant obstetrician with an interest in the Harwich Hospital have been concerned for some time about the depletion of midwifery skills in this maternity unit."

He said one Harwich midwife was recalled to Colchester for re-training, another two were identified as needing extra training and a disciplinary enquiry into alleged misconduct involving at least one midwife was ongoing.

"The consultant obstetrician has identified a number of professional errors and it was her view that if we did not close the midwifery unit at the Harwich Hospital on what I might describe as logistical grounds, then she would propose closure on clinical risk grounds."

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Harwich midwives said they are hurt and devastated after reading the letter.

Midwives Mary Piper-Kirtley, Lynne Acton, Brenda Lambert and Chris Burrows said: "If there are concerns about the competence of Harwich midwives, why are they allowed to work unsupervised in the reduced service offered at Harwich and to staff the high-risk unit at Colchester?"

They said when the Harwich unit became midwife-led 18 months ago, midwives underwent a two-day assessment at Anglia Polytechnic University and were awarded the highest G grades.

They added Trust procedure for any disciplinary enquiry has not been followed and no formal warnings have been received by Harwich midwives.

Mr Pollard released a statement in response to the leak reiterating the unit was closed due to midwifery staff shortages.

He added: "The other concerns that the Trust had about services at the unit were to do with training and are of a confidential nature. These are now being satisfactorily addressed.

"Trusts have a duty to be open and frank with MPs who ask questions about matters. This will often involve sharing information which MPs are expected to respect as being confidential. The Trust will be writing to Bernard Jenkin to ask him why he did not follow the normal procedure."

Mr Jenkin said he had glanced through the letter when he received it and did not notice the confidential paragraph.

"I deeply regret forwarding this letter to these campaigners. It was a mistake on my part. I'm absolutely reassured by the Trust that they do intend to reopen this facility as soon as they have enough midwives available which includes retraining existing staff."

He said he has apologised to the Trust.

He described the midwives at Harwich as "wonderful and all committed to their profession."

Harwich MP Ivan Henderson, who did not receive a copy of the letter, said: "This particular closure is purely due to recruitment and retention problems. My main aim and guarantee is to get the maternity unit up and open as soon as possible."

The East Anglian Daily Times is supporting the campaign calling for the maternity unit to be reopened. An announcement about its future is expected on Monday.

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