Whitehaven News column – 26th March 2015

In the fight to protect and enhance the services provided by the West Cumberland Hospital there have been many ups and downs on what has so far proven to be a long, hard road.

For years I’ve called upon the government to provide our local NHS with additional resources. Questions to the Prime Minister, letters to the Health Secretary, debates in Parliament, written parliamentary questions, public meetings and more. The fight has been relentless, the struggle continues and it will take as long as it takes. 

Last week’s declaration of a major incident at the West Cumberland Hospital and the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle publicly illustrated what we already knew: that services have been underfunded and that the re-location of services from Whitehaven to Carlisle was always madness and was always bound to result in patient care at both hospitals being compromised. There is no pleasure in saying to either the government or the Trust “I told you so…”

The future of the WCH has always been central to this struggle and the retention of consultant-led maternity services at the hospital has always been a critical factor in our fight.

Too many people in the local NHS have long sought to remove consultant-led maternity services from the WCH. Each time they have sought to do so, the public outcry has been enormous and independent investigators have been brought in to conduct a service review. Every time this has happened, the independent experts have always made it clear that consultant-led maternity services should remain in Whitehaven. Unhappy with the answers they receive, those people who want to remove these services keep asking the same question but – to their dismay – the answer never changes.

Today’s publication of the latest review into local maternity services again makes it clear that consultant led maternity services should not be moved from the WCH. It’s a turning point and for those 5,000 people who turned out at the Recreation Ground; your voices have been heard. Again. 

The retention of these services depends upon the willingness to provide them and the resources being made available to do so: the provision of consultant led maternity services at the WCH –ultimately – has always been a simple matter of will and resource. These are simple problems capable of being resolved by rational human beings.

Dr Anthony Falconer – former President of the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, led the independent review team that produced the report. When I met with him, he had been to the WCH and was filled with praise and admiration for the work undertaken by the maternity services team there.

Additionally, having called for it last week, I am now informed by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust that its acquisition of NCUHT has been paused. Today’s report makes clear beyond any doubt that the provision of consultant led maternity services at the West Cumberland Hospital must be a pre-requisite of any acquisition going ahead. As ever, this is non-negotiable.

Without doubt, the new West Cumberland Hospital must now have the full consultant led maternity services that our community deserves. 

For the government and for our local hospital trust, the truth is that there is no place left to hide and no excuses left to give.

This report marks a victory for the people, patients and medical professionals of West Cumbria. The government, NHS England and NCUHT must now deliver on the preferred option in the report and I will again be making the case to government to provide us with the resources we need – this is a request I would make of any government. 

The doubt has been removed; it’s time to deliver.


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