Harwich: Fears cuts to maternity unit have been agreed


- Credit: PA

Proposals to cut maternity services in Harwich is a done deal, councillors fear.

Despite the fact a public consultation into the reorganisation of maternity services in the region has not started yet, Harwich Town Council believe NHS bosses have already made their minds up.

Fears have been expressed following the publication of a report by North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) last month looking at maternity services.

The report, submitted by the CCG’s children’s and maternity commissioner Helen Kershaw, puts forward a number of options which recommend either the midwife centre at Harwich’s Fryatt Hospital be closed or becomes a birthing centre on reduced opening hours. There are also proposals to reorganise maternity services in Clacton.

The CCG insists “no decisions have been taken at this stage” and that the options for consultation, expected to start later this summer, have yet to be finalised.

But councillors at Harwich Town Council voted unanimously on Wednesday night to fight to preserve maternity services at Harwich at current levels – that is a maternity unit staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Councillor Ivan Henderson said: “It seems the CCG has already made up its mind in terms of the consultation.

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“In Harwich, we are being offered either a birthing unit on reduced hours or that the hospital be closed. Why can’t we have the option that services stay as they are?”

“This isn’t the first time we have had to fight to protect maternity services in Harwich. We fought to protect the hospital in 1998 and nothing has changed since then.”

MP for Harwich and north Essex Bernard Jenkin is due to visit staff at Fryatt Hospital today to find out more about the issue but last night conceded that some changes may be needed.

He said: “I won’t accept any reduced services but I think there can be changes to working practices. The unit should stay open but it is unrealistic to expect it to stay exactly the same.”

These views were backed by the leader of Tendring Council, Peter Halliday, who highlighted the current high running costs at Fryatt Hospital.

He said: “I am not in favour of a reduction in services but if we can work more efficiently by restructuring the workforce that makes sense.

“The fact is the hospital was built using a PFI agreement that makes the cost of operating it hugely expensive. Some of the consultancy rooms remain unused because they are too expensive.”

Meanwhile, clinical chief officer at the North East Essex CCG, Dr Shane Gordon, promised a full consultation where all views would be considered.

He said: “I respect the sincere and serious concern that the Harwich Town Council, and others, have expressed on this matter. However, no decisions have been taken at this stage. We are committed to public consultation, giving everyone in Tendring and Colchester a chance to comment.

“More women are giving birth in our area each year, so we need to make sure that the service they get remains safe and high quality. It is absolutely right that we look at the options available to achieve this and allow local people to give their views.

“The options for the consultation are still being finalised. We expect to start a three-month consultation in August or September. Whatever we do, we will seek to give the most benefit to local mothers, mothers-to-be and their children.”