The controversial closure of three maternity units in Greater Manchester looks set to go ahead – in spite of health secretary Andrew Lansley’s personal intervention in the case in the run up to the general election.
NHS North West is due to consider a report from the National Clinical Advisory Team on Wednesday which backs the reconfiguration of maternity and children’s services in the city, and says the proposals are consistent with Mr Lansley’s four criteria for reconfigurations.
The report concludes “there is an urgent need to proceed with the plan, as delays would be financially costly, potentially unsafe and uncertainty would lead to the further loss of valuable staff”.
One of the units scheduled for closure – at Fairfield Hospital in Bury – was highlighted by Mr Lansley before the election, when he said: “If I am secretary of health after the election maternity and children’s services will be maintained at Fairfield and I will ensure this happens”. He said any changes would need the support of GPs.
Also speaking at the time, Bury North Conservative candidate David Nuttall said: “Vote Conservative….and the maternity unit will be kept open.”
He defeated sitting Labour MP David Chaytor in the election and a month later Mr Lansley visited Fairfield and announced he would “stop the forced closure of A&E and maternity units”.
The Fairfield unit is due to close next year, followed by units at Salford Royal and Rochdale Infirmary.
Together with the closure of the unit at Trafford, which shut in February, this will reduce the city-wide number of maternity units to eight – each offering a midwife-led unit as well. The proposals were broadly backed by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel in 2007.
The closures are part of the “Making it Better” plan for maternity and children’s services across Greater Manchester, first mooted by primary care trusts in 2006.
NHS North West’s own assessment, published in its board papers, says the proposals meet or exceed expectations against the four Lansley criteria, although it notes there is local concern and suggests the sequence of changes could be looked at again and additional measures could be taken “to optimise the care and safety of patients” during the implementation.
If the board backs the reconfiguration on Wednesday, local councillors could still refer the case to Mr Lansley.