Consultant-led services will remain in west Cumbria following a decision by NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) Governing Body today.
It follows a 12 month period of review of progress to sustain and develop services and the recommendations of an Independent Review Group (IRG) made up of independent clinical specialists chaired by Dr Bill Kirkup CBE.
The review was commissioned following the Healthcare For The Future public consultation in Autumn 2016, and follows the decision made in March 2017 to continue services and test them while working with the public.
The report acknowledges the hard work of staff in the service and the innovative work by the community to support services through the Working Together Group.
Dr David Rogers, medical director for NHS North Cumbria CCG, said: “The CCG has been committed to providing sustainable consultant-led services and we are pleased to see the hard work of a lot of people over a number of years being recognised.
“The Trust has faced problems recruiting and it is clear that is improving, and there has been considerable commitment from the staff to make things work.
“I also want to thank the people who have given up their time and got involved in ‘working together,’ they have made a real difference. It is clear when you read the Independent Review Group’s report, that three years on, we are now in a very different place.”
Stephen Eames, chief executive of the North Cumbria University Hopsitals Trust and Cumbria Partnership Foundation Trust, said: “I am pleased the Independent Review Group has recognised the hard work of our staff at the West Cumberland Hospital as well as the work we have been doing to recruit staff. Our medical vacancies are significantly reduced from 2016, although we know there are still challenges in key areas.
“We have come a long way since the consultation and trying new ways of working with our community is making a real difference. It is good to see the impact of this innovative and constructive way of working.”
The review by the Independent Review Group (IRG) noted the challenges faced by the service but were “impressed by the commitment shown to overcome the recruitment challenges, including some innovative approaches.”
The IRG report says:
“The services are being maintained, and given the same commitment and ingenuity to overcome future challenges, they can be sustained in future. The Independent Review Group therefore recommends that a commitment should be given to sustain the current pattern of consultant-led units in both Whitehaven and Carlisle.
“In addition, we recommend the continuation of both alongside midwifery-led units to offer a choice of birth setting in line with the Better Births report.
“Finally, there will be future challenges to these services, but they also need stability. It is important that there is a commitment to maintaining vigilance and supporting innovative measures to counter these, continuing the collaborative Working Together approach between the community and the NHS.”
In November 2018 the CQC reported maternity across the Trust was rated as ‘good’ and a CQC review of patient experience saw it score highly.
The Venerable Richard Pratt, the Archdeacon of West Cumberland, the independent chair of the Working Together Group said: ““I am very grateful to all those – from the community and the NHS – who have been so committed to the Working Together process. I think it has had a huge impact in two ways.
“First, it has supported the NHS Trusts as they have changed the way in which they work, so that they have been able to think of and implement innovative ways to tackle the difficulties of providing maternity and other services at West Cumberland Hospital. Second it has helped to give Dr Bill Kirkup and his group confidence in what we – the community and the NHS – are doing in west Cumbria.
“As the report of the Independent Review Group makes clear, Working Together must continue so that maternity and other services are sustained into the future, and indeed so that both the NHS and the community change for the better so that we have a Health Service (not an illness service) and healthy communities.
“In Working Together we are tackling not just maternity but also telehealth, children’s health, recruitment and retention, experience of care at a distance, and so on – and there is a real excitement about this and lots to do!
“Our next Working Together Steering Group Meeting is at 6pm on Wed 17 July at the Oval Centre. If you are interested in being part of health services for the future, you will be very welcome.”
Today’s decision by NHS North Cumbria CCG – on behalf of our health and care system – will mean consultant-led services will continue at West Cumberland Hospital, along with midwifery-led care, offering more choice for women.
Cllr Stewart Young, chair of the Cumbria Health and Wellbeing Board, said: “I welcome the decision to accept the recommendations in this report. It secures the future of services which are vital for west Cumbria.
“The process that has led to this point has involved a commitment to listen to local people and work with them to design services which is to be applauded.
“It is important that this dialogue continues and that all parties work together to ensure local people receive the best possible care.”
Copeland MP Trudy Harrison said: “This was a landmark decision for hospital staff, the community, women and their families across West Cumbria. And thankfully it was the right decision.
“Today’s outcome is a huge relief for everyone in West Cumbria but has only been possible because of our community, the outstanding patient campaigners and, most importantly, the dedicated staff at West Cumberland Hospital and North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust.
“This is thanks to co-production and collaboration between the Trust, staff and the community and I will be forever grateful, professionally and personally to everyone who has been so positively involved so far and I shall work alongside all those who will continue to secure vital health and medical services in Copeland.
“Ever since I was elected I have consistently met with local health chiefs and ministers to convey the strength of feeling in our community. The importance of our maternity unit cannot be understated and I have made this clear to the Secretary of State.”
“A full service in Whitehaven is what everyone deserves and is entitled to.
“I thank Bill Kirkup and his team for their professionalism in producing this report which comes at the end of a detailed period of review.”
Sue Hayman, Member of Parliament for Workington, said: “I’m really pleased by today’s news. Keeping consultant-led maternity services in West Cumbria was incredibly important and I know that this decision has the full support of the local community.
“I want to pay tribute to the many local health campaigners for their years of dedication to the retention of consultant-led maternity services in Whitehaven. Our community would never have let services be removed without a fight, and I’m proud that their long-running campaign has succeeded, and every expectant mother in West Cumbria will benefit as a result for many years to come.
“The twelve-month trial and the independent review have shown that the service can be delivered safely in West Cumbria. It’s been a long and difficult road, and the NHS Trust has worked really hard to fill the gap when it comes to specialist recruitment.
“The decision-makers have recognised that the current service provision is effective and delivering innovation to overcome the challenges we face in West Cumbria.”
Mike Starkie, Mayor of Copeland, said: “I am elated at the decision to retain consultant-led maternity services at the West Cumberland Hospital.
“It’s been a long road to get to this landmark day, travelled by our community and workforce at the hospital, and it’s a tremendous relief for everyone that the decision of the NHS North Cumbria CCG’s Governing Body is the correct one.
“Praise was quite rightly given by today’s decision-makers to the dedicated maternity staff who are working so hard to deliver a first-class service. Equally, the community’s voice has been unequivocal in its determination that the removal of consultant-led maternity is simply not an option.
This collaboration between the staff, the community and the Trust has been instrumental in today’s decision.
“We cannot become complacent however. The some of the challenges around sustainability that brought us to this point still remain, namely around recruitment.
“There are tremendous things going on in healthcare in West Cumbria, and now the threat over maternity has been lifted, we should all take collective responsibility to ‘talk the area up’ to promote our hospital and services to ensure we never find ourselves in this position again.”
Allerdale Borough Council’s leader Marion Fitzgerald said: “I am really delighted that the independent report has recommended that a consultant led-maternity should remain at WCH.
“To have decided otherwise would unquestionably have placed lives at risk. So much has been achieved by employees and communities working together to build an excellent service.
“This has been rightly acknowledged by the CCG and I congratulate all concerned.”
Work to support services will continue and more information about Working Together and Co-production can be found here; www.northcumbriahealthandcare.nhs.uk/making-ithappen/co-production/