Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, today forced Ministers to reveal in Parliament the decision to close the Special Care Baby Unit at Hemel Hempstead Hospital. The decision, which comes only a month after Lord Hunt decided to keep the unit open, was not going to be announced until after Parliament rises for the Easter recess.
Peter Lilley said after the exchange in the House of Commons:
“I had heard a rumour that despite Lord Hunt?s welcome announcement last month that Hemel?s baby and women?s unit would stay open, local management decided last week to close it ? but not to announce this until after Parliament went into recess. So I wrote to the Health Secretary forewarning him that I would raise this issue at Health Questions. This forced the Minister to admit the change of plan.
“I warned Ministers last month that the uncertainty over the future of these services at Hemel was itself destabilising, demoralising staff and making recruitment impossible.
“It is astonishing that this double U-turn ? management announce closure, Minister decides to keep it open and management again decide on closure ? have all happened before the Independent Inquiry on the future of these services has even published its report.
“As a result of this confusion, there has been a haemorrhaging of staff. No fewer that two-thirds of nursing posts at Hemel are vacant ? which makes closure inevitable at least until new staff can be recruited.
“But I have discovered that more than one third of the nursing posts at Watford Special Care Baby Unit, with which it is to be merged, are also vacant. So I called on the Minister to draft in extra staff to ensure the highest level of care and safety for mothers and babies there. Lord Hunt had promised that extra resources would be channelled in by the Modernisation Unit. But his replacement, Yvette Cooper, said it was up to the Hospital and Partnership Trust to recruit extra staff.
“Safe, reliable and accessible provision for mothers and babies from Harpenden, Redbourn, St Albans and Hemel are essential. I believe that they can be restored and will do all in my power to achieve this. But the following steps are essential:
? Extra qualified staff must be provided immediately to ensure that the merged units at Watford are fully staffed from the word go.
? A detailed plan to restore permanent services at Hemel by a given date must be spelt out.
? Two permanent appointments must be made to replace the two consultants ? Kane and Rosenberg ? (covered by the inadequate recent inquiry) to ensure stability at the top clinical level.
? Management structures must be streamlined so that the Special Care Baby Units come under the same management as the maternity and gynaecology services.