HOSPITAL campaigners have sent a strong message to the man leading the review into the future of maternity services in Whitehaven.

Dr Bill Kirkup is chairing the Independent Review Group (IRG) which will make recommendations about whether consultant-led maternity is retained at the West Cumberland Hospital.

A 12-month trial period, to determine whether these services are sustainable, came to an end on March 31.

The IRG is set to publish its report later in the summer, after which NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) will decide whether or not to secure the future of the Whitehaven consultant-led unit.

Ahead of that report being finalised, local campaigners have sent out a strong message to Dr Kirkup and his team – stressing that these services are vital to the safety of mums and babies and must be saved.

It comes after Dr Kirkup attended a meeting of the Working Together group, where he heard about the co-production work which has been carried out alongside the community to help address issues and make the service sustainable.

Retired consultant Mahesh Dhebar is among those fighting to save maternity services.

He was at the meeting and has sought to stress the importance of consultant-led maternity, both to prevent mothers having to travel 40 miles in labour to Carlisle, and to secure the long term future of other vital services at the West Cumberland Hospital.

He said he was pleased to hear Dr Kirkup say that they would be taking all factors into consideration – with high importance given to the experiences of mothers and babies.

But with the final report still being drawn up, Mr Dhebar stressed: “We are still watching.

“Dr Kirkup has taken some rurality factors on board, including the lack of effective public transport and the fact that west Cumbria is an economically deprived area.

“He understood that if there is no consultant-led maternity at West Cumberland Hospital, that will have a domino effect on other services.”

But he added that safe patients are more important than safe services – warning against passing the risk from the hospital to the mother and baby.

“Safe service is very restricted concept, which starts at the hospital door and finishes at the hospital door, while the concept of safe patient starts when the patient leaves home, during transport, in the hospital, and back home after treatment,” he explained.

“Where distances matters, care should be closer to home. This is even more important and vital for maternity, as there are two lives are at risk.”

Annette Robson, of the We Need West Cumberland Hospital campaign group, stressed that although health chiefs have been working some members of the community via co-production, that does not mean the strong opposition against any loss of services has dwindled.

She referred to before and after photographs in the presentation.

She said: “The presentation says nothing that we don’t already know. In it there are photos captioned ‘before – 4,000 angry people’ and ‘after – a photo of a co-production meeting’. This is totally misleading. There are still 4000-plus angry people out there.”

During the meeting, Dr Kirkup stressed that the IRG is an advisory group and the final decision on maternity services lies with the CCG.

Mr Dhebar added: “The west Cumbrian community is watching. If the report about maternity is positive, then the community will respond positively. If the report is negative, there will be anger. He accepted that, and indicated that community trust is important for service provision.”

Once finalised, the report will be discussed at a public meeting of the CCG governing body. A date for this has yet to be confirmed.