Local councillors in East Sussex have given their support to permanently centralising consultant-led maternity and paediatric services at Conquest Hospital in Hastings.
Under the new configuration, there will also be two midwife-led birthing units at Crowborough War Memorial Hospital and Eastbourne Hospital and short say paediatric assessment units at Eastbourne and Conquest.
“We are experiencing difficulties with staffing at the moment”
The vote in favour of the plan took place at a meeting of East Sussex County Council’s health and overview scrutiny committee on 28 July.
The changes mean Eastbourne District General Hospita will have a midwife-run maternity service, while a consultant-led service and children’s inpatient facilities will be based at Conquest. A separate midwife-led unit will continue to operate at Crowborough.
Consultant-led units had previously been based at both Eastbourne and Hastings, but the Eastbourne unit was temporarily changed to midwife-led more than a year ago because of safety fears caused by problems recruiting staff.
The vote to make the change permanent 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 worked because of a shortage of staff at Conquest Hospital.
In the letter, the trust’s 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 nine whole-time equivalents,” the letter added.
Ms Stevens told the committee that it was necessary to send the letter after staff resisted requests for them to work across different sites. 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 they are contractually obliged to work at any site run by the trust, adding that staff will not be able to refuse “without sound reasoning and provision of supporting evidence”.
Refusing do so will be considered a breach of their employment contract and means they are “likely to face disciplinary proceedings” if they refused, it warned.
Ms Stevens also told the committee that 10 candidates had been shortlisted to fill the vacancies and interviews were taking place in the next two weeks.
The services have been centralised at Conquest Hospital on a temporary basis since May last year.
The three Clinical Commissioning Groups in the area approved the centralisation last month.