STRUCTURE: Councillors in East Sussex have given their support to permanently centralise consultant led maternity and paediatric services at Conquest Hospital in Hastings.

Under the new configuration there are now also two midwife-led birthing units at Crowborough War Memorial Hospital and Eastbourne Hospital and short say paediatric assessment units at Eastbourne and Conquest.

The vote at the Health and Overview Scrutiny Committee meeting on Monday last week came less than a week after a letter was sent to midwifery staff by East Sussex Healthcare Trust calling for them to be flexible in where they work because of a shortage of staff at Conquest Hospital.

In the letter, assistant director of nursing and head of midwifery, Lindsey Stevens, wrote: “As you will be aware we are experiencing difficulties with staffing at the moment.

“Despite the best efforts of the senior midwives to recruit to vacancies we are again faced with a high vacancy rate of approximately 9 whole time equivalents”.

Ms Stevens told the Committee that it was necessary to send the letter after staff resisted.

She said: “I’m afraid I did have some issues with certain midwifery staff and that’s why I sent the letter”.

The letter goes on to remind staff that they are contractually obliged to work at any site run by the trust. It adds that staff will not be able to refuse “without sound reasoning and provision of supporting evidence” To do so will be considered a breach of your contract of employment and you are likely to face disciplinary proceedings if you do refuse.”

Ms Stevens told the Committee that 10 candidates had been shortlisted to fill the vacancies and interviews are taking place in the next two weeks.

The services have been centralised at Conquest Hospital on a temporary basis since May last year.

Campaigners were calling for a two site option for consultant-led services to be considered and local MP Stephen Lloyd had been urging his constituents to contact councillors to ask them to refer the decision to the secretary of state.

The three Clinical Commissioning Groups in the area approved the centralisation last month.

Two alternative motions were put forward, including the option to refer the CCG decision to the Secretary of State and a motion to delay the decision until September after more evidence had been gathered.

However, both motions were denied.