Commitment to new maternity unit at LVH is re-affirmed

HEALTH Minister Michael McGimpsey has repeated his assurance that Lagan Valley Hospital will retain its maternity unit.

As the Star first reported in March last year, the hospital's maternity unit will transform from an obstetric unit to a midwife-led one. The Star also reported in June last year, in an interview with the new South Eastern Trust Chief Executive, that the new unit will be housed in a brand new building at the LVH site.

This week, during an Assembly debate led by local MLA Jeffrey Donaldson, Mr McGimpsey repeated his assurances the midwife-led unit would go ahead and there would be a seamless transition from the current consultant-led unit.

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Lagan Valley MLAs across the board united to voice their support for the decision.

Mr Donaldson paid tribute to the staff at the Hospital. He also questioned whether there would be sufficient capacity at surrounding hospitals if the LVH was transformed into a midwife-led unit and sought clarification on the timescale.

"Of major concern to myself and my colleagues is the idea that a gap could be created between the transfer of consultant-led inpatient obstetrics services from Lagan Valley Hospital to other maternity units and the creation of a midwifery-led maternity service at Lagan Valley," he said. "We seek a firm assurance from the Minister there will not be a gap. If obstetrics is to be removed from the hospital, it should not happen until a midwifery-led unit is firmly in place and properly resourced."

Mr Donaldson was supported by other Lagan Valley MLAs, including Sinn Fein's Paul Butler, who said: "The standard of maternity services at Lagan Valley Hospital is excellent. The hospital also has excellent midwives. We need to be assured there will be a smooth transition, carried out in a planned and strategic way, towards putting a midwifery-led unit to be proud of in Lagan Valley Hospital, and so that women who need to avail themselves of services can go there with confidence."

Alliance's Trevor Lunn expressed concern that other maternity units were already working to capacity, and questioned where local mothers would be accommodated when the obstetric unit at the Lagan Valley closes. He continued: "I believe that the argument about the maintenance of a full unit in Lagan Valley Hospital has already been lost, mainly because of the situation with anaesthetics. Under the overall plan for the hospital, 24-hour anaesthetic cover cannot be provided. That leaves us with the option of a midwife-led unit. That has been suggested for some years and appears to have found favour with the Royal College of Midwives, which gives me confidence.

"However, the idea has been tossed around for a long time and has been through many reviews and battles. We are now undergoing another review, and I am filled with dread as to what the outcome may be."

Jonathan Craig (DUP) added: "I plead with the Minister not to have another review into Lagan Valley Hospital. We have had review after review. We are at the stage when people on the street are saying they believe that the hospital will close. That is not good for morale in the hospital or for morale right across Lagan Valley."

Ulster Unionist Basil McCrea thanked the Minister and said: "The Minister has not only overturned the decision of the trust, but he has delivered on a manifesto commitment to ensure that there was a choice through the provision of midwifery-led maternity services in the Lagan Valley Hospital. There has been considerable debate; we have fought as a united team in the council to save the services at Lagan Valley Hospital, and I am pleased to say that this appears to have been well received by those who can make the decisions."

Replying Mr McGimpsey said: "My decision that there should be a midwifery-led unit at Lagan Valley Hospital will mean that women in the Lisburn area will have access to maternity services that would not have been possible under Developing Better Services.

"I recognise that the maternity unit at Lagan Valley Hospital has a strong record and is greatly valued by local people and by those who have used the service. Therefore, I have decided that maternity services will remain at Lagan Valley Hospital. Although a consultant-led service is not possible, a midwife-led service is. Until that change happens, I have ensured that the present maternity service is maintained.

"I visited the maternity unit at Lagan Valley Hospital on 18 March 2009, when I announced the planned changes, and I was greatly impressed by the staff and their support for the development of a midwife-led unit in the area. Indeed, on the same day, it was not just staff who supported the move: Jeffrey Donaldson, the local MP, and other local elected representatives also supported the move, particularly in light of the delays to the proposed women's hospital. The trust will ensure that a midwife-led unit is in place at Lagan Valley Hospital before obstetric services are withdrawn."

The confirmation of the Minister's decision to establish a midwife-led unit at the hospital was welcomed by Lisburn Councillor Alderman Cecil Calvert, who said: "We have one of the best maternity units in Northern Ireland with highly dedicated staff. This has now been supported by the Minister's decision to retain maternity services at the Lagan Valley Hospital. I look forward with confidence to seeing the Lagan Valley unit going from strength to strength."