Maternity campaign claims 'untrue' and 'nonsense', says Shropshire hospitals boss
The boss of Shropshire's two main hospitals has branded a series of claims made by campaigners over maternity care in the county as "untrue" and "nonsense".
An open letter was sent out by health campaigners calling for a ‘halt to cuts that will place lives at risk’, amid fears over the planned changes to rural maternity care which could see births stop at the units in Ludlow, Oswestry and Bridgnorth.
The letter, signed by 559 people, was sent to Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH), which runs the midwife-led units (MLUs), and Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group, which has proposed a shake-up in the county’s maternity services.
The letter claims that women do want to give birth at their local MLUs but their choice is being taken away by repeated temporary closures.
It also claims that SaTH reduced the number of midwives working at Telford’s consultant led unit from 2015 and 2017 and the newly recruited midwives are now not experienced enough to work on their own in a rural MLU.
In a letter responding to the claims, chief executive of SaTH, Simon Wright, said it was "simply not true" that SaTH has been trying to close the rural MLUs down since 2016 as part of a "package of cuts".
He said: "The current maternity tariff, which is the national system which funds our maternity service, is based on activity, with the money following the mum.
"To suggest that closing the rural MLUs would significantly improve the trust’s financial standing is nonsense.
"There has been no money removed from our maternity services which we actually run at a loss of approximately £2 million-a-year."
He also refuted claims that SaTH reduced the number of midwives working at the consultant-led unit between 2015 and 2017, saying they instead grew from 193 in 2015 to 211 in 2017.
Mr Wright said claims that newly qualified midwives were deliberately recruited to save money were "untrue and lacking any substance whatsoever".
He said: "The recruitment campaign that we undertook last year was, in fact, designed to over-recruit to our overall staffing levels in order to address sickness absence, maternity leave and actual vacancies.
"The recruitment of newly qualified midwives is something the trust undertakes every year, separate to the over-recruitment issue, in order to support the development of skills and competencies of those newly qualified midwives.
"This national approach known as preceptorship, is used by all maternity services in the UK in order to ensure that newly qualified midwives are supported through their skills development. SaTH does not have higher levels of preceptorship across maternity than any other unit in the NHS."
He said none of the decisions to temporarily suspend services at any MLU had been taken lightly and everything had been done in the best interest of women using the service.
Under a proposed shake-up of maternity services in the county, women will have to give birth at the consultant-led unit at Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, at the hospital’s neighbouring midwife led unit at PRH, at a free-standing midwife-led unit at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital or at home.
NHS England must now give the go-ahead for the plans to go out to public consultation.