Maidstone Hospital's Maternity Day Unit is closing
Vulnerable mums-to-be will be forced to travel up to 20 miles as maternity services are downgraded.
On Monday, March 6 Maidstone Hospital’s Maternity Day Unit (MDU), which cares for women with high-risk pregnancies, began its closure and is to be merged with the busier clinic at Tunbridge Wells Hospital, Pembury.
NHS bosses insist the change will provide safer and better care by ensuring they can easily get access to the best treatment.
But critics say it will impact on some of the County Town’s most vulnerable women, many of whom come from deprived backgrounds.
Helen Grant, MP for Maidstone and the Weald, has asked for an urgent meeting with Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust’s (MTW) chief executive Glenn Douglas.
MTW says the MDU unit sees roughly five women a day or 1,300 visits a year in a midwife-led assessment. Other sources have disputed this, saying the figure is double.
Consultant-led obstetric antenatal clinics, and the care of women with low risk pregnancies, will continue at Maidstone Hospital, along with the birth centre.
Overall MTW looks after 6,000 pregnant women each year. The decision was made after a review of antenatal services.
Alan Pentecost, a retired obstetrician, said: “I feel the proposed move is predictable but reprehensible. At the very start of our shotgun marriage with Pembury I felt there would be a struggle for power between the two centres and most outcomes would be decided by ease of administration and the loudest voices.
“Closure of this service in Maidstone would particularly disadvantage our poorer patients who have neither the finance or often the inclination to travel a long and inconvenient distance for such needs.”
Jenny Cleary, head of midwifery, said: “This is an important improvement in care for an important group of women and will help ensure we continue to provide, and they continue to receive, the safest possible maternity services.”
Health bosses moved most consultant-led maternity and children’s services to Tunbridge Wells by 2011, despite strong opposition from campaigners and Helen Grant.
The MP for Maidstone and the Weald says she is seeking assurances the latest move is not just a cash-saving exercise and is in the best interest of Maidstone mums.
She said: “I understand the logic behind this decision but it is a long way for many to travel and it is a further erosion of services at Maidstone, which gives me cause for concern.
"You can only slice a salami so many times and I fear we will end up with nothing.
“I remember, like it was yesterday, pushing a pram 17 miles from Maidstone to Pembury in 2009 to illustrate the long distance prospective mothers would have to travel as a result of downgrading of the Maternity services in Maidstone.
"Now with higher-risk antenatal care moving there too it is happening all over again.”
Dr Paul Hobday, of the National Health Action Party, said the decision to centralise was health chiefs going back on a promise.
He said: “Yet another service disappears for the more vulnerable Maidstone population who have to now travel another 20 miles.
“When maternity care was taken away from Maidstone it was on the understanding that at risk women could still be assessed locally. This guarantee was a condition.
“Surprise, surprise, years later this is sneaked through too, probably hoping the public have forgotten what was promised. This is a sign of things to come with Maidstone losing more services, sold again on the false argument of “patient safety” which treats the public as idiots.
“The centralisation of services will actual increase patient inconvenience and risk lives with further to travel. Hospital trusts are being forced to act in this way because of under-funding."