Campaigners are celebrating after a health chief gave the strongest assurance yet that consultant-led maternity services in west Cumbria are safe.

Stephen Eames, chief executive of the trust that runs the Carlisle and Whitehaven hospitals, made the revelation at the latest meeting of the West Cumbria Community Forum (WCCF).

It is years since the Government's Success Regime announced plans to downgrade maternity services at the West Cumberland Hospital and centralise consultant-led care at the Cumberland Infirmary.

The proposals caused a huge outcry, with fears the huge travel times would put the lives of mums and babies at risk.

Thousands of people backed the News & Star's Save Our services campaign, opposing the cuts.

Following the backlash, health chiefs agreed to a 12-month trial - to see if issues, including recruitment problems, could be addressed. That is due to finish at the end of this month, after which the final fate of services will be determined.

But campaigners have been give fresh hope, after Mr Eames told them that the picture had improved since the trial began.

Retired consultant Mahesh Dhebar, of the We Need West Cumberland Hospital campaign group, was at the WCCF meeting.

He said: "Stephen Eames said, and I quote, that the service has been improving, the CQC (Care Quality Commission) report is good, recruitment is good, and there is a strong likelihood the consultant-led unit will continue at West Cumberland Hospital."

Although the final decision has not been made, Mr Dhebar said it was very positive news.

The final say lies with NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) governing body, after an independent report has been published. This is due in early summer.

Jon Rush, CCG chairman, said they are awaiting the recommendations of the review group. Until then, services will continue as they are.

He added: “We know a lot of people have worked very hard to make progress, including community groups in west Cumbria, and we are grateful for all the hard work that has taken place.”

The Venerable Richard Pratt, Archdeacon of West Cumberland, chairs the Working Together Steering Group - which has been helping health chiefs overcome long-standing issues.

He added: “The conversation has changed dramatically over the last 18 months, and while there has been more progress in some areas than others, the value of working together collaboratively is really paying off.

"There is still a long way to go and we are working to review of this type of ‘working together’,

looking at how effective we have been, and how we can improve co-production in


The Independent Review Group (IRG), chaired by Bill Kirkup, will report back to the CCG after the 12-month trial ends on March 31.

It is expected to make these recommendations in May or June, once it has had time to fully review all of the data.

This report will then be considered by the CCG governing body meeting, held in public, in early summer.

Mr Rush added: “We were very clear when we said we wanted to really test the sustainability of consultant-led maternity services over a longer period, and now that the 12 month period is coming to an end we look forward to receiving recommendations from the Independent Review Group about

the progress that has been made.

"We will then reach a decision about the future of those services."