STRUCTURE: Commissioners leading a major review of hospital services in Morecambe Bay have ruled out downgrading the maternity unit that was the focal point of the area’s recent care scandal.

A document setting out Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group’s intentions for 2014-15 makes clear it expects to maintain consultant led maternity services at Furness General Hospital “for the foreseeable future”.

Local residents and politicians have supported a high profile campaign to protect the unit since the review of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust’s services began earlier this year.

Cumbria’s commissioning intentions for the foundation trust, which were due to be published this week, said: “In line with recent leadership discussions, NHS Cumbria CCG wishes to make clear that it sees the retention of consultant led maternity services at Furness General Hospital as a core commissioning priority for the foreseeable future.”

HSJ understands the commissioners and foundation trust came to the conclusion earlier this year that there was no acceptable model for acute care that did not continue to provide the services in Furness.

The hospital serves a population in excess of 70,000, which would need to travel between an hour and an hour-and-a-half on a single carriageway to access services at the trust’s main acute site, the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

However, the decision leaves the trust and commissioners with the challenge of how to ensure staff at the small Furness unit see a sufficiently large and complex mix of cases to meet clinical standards.

The document said that “this will mean exploring network solutions with other providers; and clarity with the local population and stakeholders on the level of risk that maintenance of the service entails”.

The document also commits Cumbria CCG to “continuing to commission an urgent care service at Furness”, while noting that “the service model is likely to need to change”.

The Better Care Together review of Morecambe Bay’s services now intends to have developed a “strategic outline case” for reconfiguration by June.

It was serious concerns about maternity care at Furness that sparked the care scandal that engulfed the trust in 2011. The trust’s maternity care between 2004 and June this year is currently the subject of an independent investigation ordered by health secretary Jeremy Hunt.