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.
The Better Care Together review of the structure of services at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust began earlier this year, sparking a high profile campaign to protect the Furness unit.
The review is being carried out by the trust and Cumbria and Lancashire North Clinical Commissioning Groups, who intend to have developed a “strategic outline case” for reconfiguration by June next year.
But 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”.
Cumbria’s commissioning intentions for the foundation trust, published this week, said: “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.”
It is understood 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 “this will mean exploring network solutions with other providers”.
It was serious concerns about maternity care at Furness that sparked the care scandal that engulfed University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation 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 in September.
The inquiry, which is being led by Dr Bill Kirkup CBE, is due to report its findings in the summer.
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Documents seen by HSJ