There could be deaths - warning

A SURGEON who resigned in protest at proposed cuts at the DGH and Conquest has said the closure of surgical maternity services at the hospital could result in the deaths of pregnant women.

Kent Ayers has told the Herald he left because he felt he would not be able to provide proper care for his patients and he has given a damning verdict on the management of the NHS Trust which runs both the DGH and the Conquest.

Mr Ayers, a well respected and popular obstetrician who worked at the hospital for six years, has said plans to close the obstetric and gynaecology departments, and the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) at the DGH, are "ridiculous" and a "false economy"

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Mr Ayers left the hospital at the end of July in protest at the plans to "reconfigure" maternity services.

This is likely to result in Eastbourne patients being forced to travel to the Conquest in Hastings or the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.

Mr Ayers said senior managers "refused to listen" to arguments in favour of keeping the services in Eastbourne.

After months of rumours East Sussex Hospitals Trust has recently put forward the view that a "single site option" (basing all of the above services at Hastings is the most cost effective way of operating and will not compromise the level of care and safety of patients.

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But Mr Ayers has rejected this and claims closures at Eastbourne will lead to fatalities, he said, "Eastbourne maternity services are excellent and should be seen as a beacon in the region and we have some of the best figures within whole the region.

"This is largely down to the excellence in mid-wifery.The mid-wives in Eastbourne are fantastic.

"In the last three years there have been five near deaths of pregnant women in Eastbourne.

"If they had to go to Hastings they would have died. The Trust is working on the assumption that five deaths in three years is acceptable but this was not acceptable to me."

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He criticised the intransigence of managers of the Trust who he said are determined to close the obstetric and gynaecology departments at Eastbourne.

He sadi, "The managers are completely dismissive of the evidence and that is why I left. I was getting really worked up about the fact they wouldn't listen to any of the arguments for Eastbourne.

"It's a completely false economy, it's cuckoo land, its nuts.

My Ayers also said switching services to Hastings will not save money.

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He said the evidence from an independent committee supports keeping obstetric and gynaecology departments at both hospitals, and he claimed that any short-term savings will be negated by the need for more staff to cope with the increased demand generated by basing the services at just one hospital.

He said, "Three years ago The East Sussex Tri-Forum Maternity Services Liason Committee published a report which stated there was no benefit in changing the maternity services at the hospitals.

"Since then, and in light of the recent proposals, they have looked at it again and have found no change.

"They found there would be an initial financial saving of 400,000 but that would be taken up the extra staff who would need to be employed.

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"An extra tier of anaesthetists would be needed to provide epidurals, at present the anaesthetists cover both maternity and intensive care but that would not be possible with the increased demand created from having the maternity and gynaecology services at just one hospital.

"They are looking at it in terms of staffing but this argument is erroneous.

"A single site would mean you have more junior doctors on one site but because the unit will be far more busy, because it's serving such a large area, and you will have to have two doctors to cover maternity and gynaecology.

"I know a very conscientous junior doctor who said that he is run off his feet at Eastbourne but the managers just said he needs to work harder.

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"Eight new doctors would be needed at a cost of around 70,000 each, so immediately you have lost the 400,000 benefit.

"I cannot see any benefit in closing one unit.

"It takes 45 minutes on a good day to get to Hastings. But some mother's labours last less than 45 minutes and who will want their baby born in the back of a car or a taxi?

He also predicted the hospital Trust will find it very difficult to find enough mid-wives to work at the Conquest and he questioned whether Eastbourne mums will want to give birth in Hastings.

He said, "Another issue is midwifery, if you close Eastbourne and tell the staff to travel to Hastings I think at least half of them won't want to go.

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"Half of the girls live in Seaford and I think they will chose to work in Brighton or Haywards Heath.

"There is also a very bad problem with morale in Hastings and I can't see anyone of the staff wanting to go there.

"There are also so few mid-wives at the moment and the problem is not helped by the fact the Trust is not employing the new students.

"The students are only being given six-month contracts rather than full-time contracts.

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"And I don't think many mothers living in Eastbourne will want to travel to Hastings to give birth.

"Hastings has its social problems which will put some people off and I think people will chose to travel to Brighton rather than Hastings.

"Brighton has a Level Three maternity unit and has better paediatric facilities than Hastings (which is a Level One unit), surely if mothers are forced to travel to either of these hospitals they'll chose Brighton.

"I also don't believe the Hastings maternity unit will be upgraded to a Level Three unit, the Government would not allow this because its policy is to have a certain number of centre of excellence, and the two designated intensive paediatric care centres are Penbury and Brighton."

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The reason East Sussex Hospitals Trust is being forced to make the proposed cuts is because it is under pressure to save money from the South East Coast Strategic Health Authority which holds the purse strings for all of the hospitals in the region.

Mr Ayers said the managers at the DGH have done a good job at managing the Trust's finance but were being made to pay for failing hospitals which have generated huge debts.

He said, "The issue is also national, the government has said they are pouring extra money into the health service but we haven't seen any of it.

"I worked at Eastbourne for six years and for the first three years we were forced to make ten per cent cuts.

"That's not extra, it's less money.

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"The issue is nobody cares about women, or indeed children."

"We are part of the South East region and all of the hospitals in this region draw from the same budget. If a hospital is failing the other hospitals have suffer as a result, and this is not fair.

"For example Redhill Hospital has a huge defecit.

"And they have waiting list iniatives when surgeons come in at the weekend and all staff are paid a phenomenal amount of extra money.

"I know a colleague who can earn half his income again by coming in at the weekend.

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"And the closures of units such as Chichester, Worthing and Eastbourne are a direct result of hospitals like Redhill trying to reach their targets.

"Eastbourne is not a failing hospital, not failing at all.

"The high level management have actually been quite good at managing the finances.

"So why should we have to close in response to Red Hill failing? It's just not fair."

Mr Ayers is now practicing in another country and said he wishes all the best for his patients and former colleagues, especially the midwives working at the DGH and the birthing centre in Crowborough.

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He said, "The main reason I wanted to speak about this is in response to the article featured in the Herald where my patients expressed their thanks to me and their shock that I had left.

"I felt very guilty to leave my patients without an explanation as to why I left.

"I was devoted to them and I was very sorry to have to go.

"But the problems at Eastbourne are both local and national. I was unable to deliver the level of care I wanted to within the framework I was given and the whole debacle of closing one unit is ridiculous."