University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay has dropped plans to temporarily shut maternity and neonatal services in Furness after commissioners intervened to resolve its staffing crisis.

The troubled foundation trust had planned to transfer the special care baby unit and consultant-led maternity services at its Furness General Hospital to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary on 5 February. In a statement issued days before the planned transfer, it said the action was necessary while it worked to resolve staffing shortages caused by “unsustainable” levels of sickness absence.

The trust’s interim chairman David Henshaw said it had seen a “marked increase” in sickness absence since the escalation of a police investigation focussed on the Furness maternity services.

But on the day of the planned transfer it announced that a “team effort” by the trust and the “wider NHS” had enabled it to source enough additional neonatal nurses to keep the services open in Furness.

Nigel Macguire, chief officer of Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group, said his group had intervened alongside the North Lancashire clinical commissioners and the NHS Commissioning Board’s northern region office to resolve the staffing problems.

“As commissioners, we were taken by surprise by [Morecambe Bay’s] decision and we felt we needed to ensure continuity of services for the population of Furness,” he told HSJ.

“I think this was a good example of the NHS coming in to support an FT in difficulties.”

Mr Macguire added that he thought foundation trusts sometimes thought that because they carried organisational risk they had to manage it alone. “I’m of the view that the NHS needs to work together to manage that risk, because it’s not an organisational risk it’s a risk for the local population.

“The lesson for me in all this was FTs need to really engage with commissioners at the first available opportunity rather than feel they have to make the decision on their own and then inform us.”