Ealing Midwives Condemn Maternity Closure Plans

Ealing Hospital midwives on the picket line on the national NHS pay strike last October
Ealing Hospital midwives on the picket line on the national NHS pay strike last October

NINETY Ealing Hospital midwives have written a shocking open letter condemning the threatened closure of their Maternity Unit, warning that the ‘rotting away’ of the service they provide puts many lives at risk.

More than 3,000 babies are born each year at the hospital in Southall, west London.

The letter from 90 Ealing midwives was sent earlier this month to Dr Mohini Parmar, Chair of Ealing Clinical Commissioning Group and Thirza Sawtell, Director of Strategy and Transformation, and copied to Health Secretary Hunt.

Ealing Hospital Maternity Department, along with its Accident and Emergency Department and Paediatrics Unit, are set to close under the ‘Shaping A Healthier Future’ west London hospital cuts and closure programme.

The A&E departments at Hammersmith Hospital and Central Middlesex Hospital closed on 10th September last year under the programme, while the closure of the A&E at Charing Cross Hospital is also planned.

In their letter the midwives warn that there has been ‘a systematic erosion of highly-skilled and valued individuals and an indescribable loss to the midwifery profession’.

It adds: ‘We fear for our futures and for the future of the women we care for … How many mothers’ lives will be lost?’

Below is a shortened version of the letter.

‘Dear Dr Mohini Parmar and Thirza Sawtell,

‘We the midwives of Ealing Hospital are a truly exceptional group of professionals. Collectively we have accumulated 1767 years of service to the NHS, most of those being dedicated to the care and wellbeing of the families of the Borough of Ealing …

‘Since October 2012 when a decision was made by the Secretary of State for Health to progress plans for closure of Ealing Hospital Maternity Unit under the Shaping a Healthier Future (SAHF) plan, the staff of Ealing Maternity Unit have lived under a constant cloud in wondering how and when this would happen.

‘This caused anxiety and consternation regarding how this decision would affect and impact upon the lives of the staff and the women and families they serve …

‘The staff members of Ealing Maternity Unit are for the most part residents of the borough of Ealing and service users of Ealing Hospital themselves.

‘They have their homes, friends, families and schools, nurseries and child minders for their children locally to Ealing Hospital where they have also built their careers.

‘Many of our staff members have given birth to their own babies at Ealing Maternity Unit, with care delivered by colleagues who are close and lifelong friends. Leaving Ealing behind for us transcends the “just going to another job” – for many of us it is a whole way of life change …

‘As a group of midwives, we feel that SAHF has not only “planned” a fracture in the provision of service to the women we care deeply about, but has also impacted on our career opportunities which have in some cases been impeded by the commitment to stay at Ealing until the bitter end.

‘This has led to some midwives disengaging from our service completely, some leaving London for midwifery roles elsewhere, some retiring earlier than they may have originally planned to and some completely reconsidering whether they continue in a career in midwifery at all.

‘This is a systematic erosion of highly skilled and valued individuals and an indescribable loss to the midwifery profession …

‘The whole team have maintained a corporate approach to the processes of change which have been enforced upon us but it is becoming increasingly difficult to bear and is impacting on the physical and mental health of many of our staff.

‘We know through indirect feedback to us that GPs have long since been instructed by the CCG to stop referring women to Ealing for their maternity care.

‘This is completely contrary to the plan agreed to keep Ealing an open and safe “going concern” until the point of a planned and carefully considered closure of the unit.

‘As a result, we can see our client numbers diminishing and our service rotting away in front of our eyes. It is also reported to us by women that we care for that their choices are not being considered or respected when they are being allocated a hospital booking by their GPs.

‘In addition to this we have heard today that the trainee doctors working in Ealing Maternity Unit have received communication from the deanery two weeks ago informing them that they would be remaining at Ealing until October 2015.

‘Our senior management team were unaware of this and nobody had the decency to inform us of the change before we heard it from others.

‘It really speaks volumes that 120 midwives are not important enough to inform of change afoot but 2-3 trainee doctors are. This level of discrimination with regard to information sharing is truly appalling.

‘Our confidence in and respect for the SAHF team is dwindling daily. We fear for our futures and for the future of the women we care for.

‘We are all aware of the impact of the recent A&E closures in the North West London sector which has led to a serious impairment of care provision to the most seriously ill people in our community.

‘Our concerns are that similar impairment will inevitably occur in maternity care provision and the very vulnerable women and families we see daily will not be able to access the services that they so badly need.

‘How many mothers’ lives will be lost in evidencing this observation? It is too sad to even consider.

‘In the midst of a population of whom only 40% have English as a first language, we have a population whose voice is seldom heard. The minority who do voice their opinions publicly are seldom listened to.

‘This is evident from the flawed consultation at the inception of the SAHF plan in how the opinion of the population of Ealing was canvassed.

‘We as a group of professionals are no longer prepared to sit quietly and be “done to”.

‘We demand that the impact of SAHF process on us as a group of professionals who give our very selves to our job is made public.

‘We demand that our feelings are taken into consideration and that we are not just overlooked in favour of a flawed political agenda.

‘This has happened to us and continues to do so as I write. I imagine that there are more midwives than you would imagine who will have yet another broken night’s sleep tonight, but not for the joy of helping another little being into the world, but for the stress and anxiety caused to us by the SAHF programme.

‘We as a group sincerely hope that there is true learning achieved from the grave mistakes which have been made in the implementation of the SAHF programme so that when this recurs in the future – because it will – those who are directly affected are given far more respect and consideration …

‘Yours sincerely

‘A group of the Midwifery Staff of Ealing Hospital’