After a brief reprieve before Christmas (see here) the NHS North West Board finally decided to press on with its plans to scrap Hope Maternity Unit and replace it with a stand alone Midwife Led Unit which will mean only uncomplicated births will happen in Salford. All other births will be packed off to large `baby factories' scattered around Greater Manchester in Oldham, Bolton and St Mary's in Manchester.
The campaign against Hope's closure, led by mums and midwives, had argued passionately that Salford's baby unit – acknowledged as the best in Greater Manchester – should be kept open.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) had even written a report for the Board proving that the figures upon which the closure was based were "inaccurate". The RCM provided latest real figures showing how the birth rate has risen and the "extremely worrying" prospect of women having to travel even further than St Mary's in Manchester…
"The capacity for St Mary's is between 6000 and 6500, which St Mary's is already near without the remaining three units closing" the report states "It is predicted that St Mary's are to take 40% of the Salford women, which will be around 1500 women. They have no capacity for these women given the rate of their own birth increases, even if it halves in 2011."
Looking at the whole Greater Manchester plan for future births, the RCM report adds…
"We feel the Network need to be honest about the situation instead of painting a picture of all being well when it clearly is not. It is too upsetting a picture around the capacity issues."
The RCM report concludes by pleading with the Board to review its decision… "We have great anxieties that if the implementation of MIB and Healthy Futures continues on its present path that there are risks, particularly around capacity."
The NHS North West Board ignored these findings, while Salford's doctors stuck their head in the sand and agreed with the Salford closure - their representatives, the Salford and Trafford Local Medical Committee, wrote that it had "no outstanding issues" despite the huge campaign over the years by Salford people opposing Hope's closure.
At the NHS Board meeting Hazel Blears spoke in favour of keeping Hope open, and criticised the doctors… "the GPs said that they support the programme but had a caveat that it must be made clear that the GPs don't get the blame – because they know that the decision is unpopular."
Blears pointed out that Hope is the best performing baby unit in Greater Manchester and in the top 20% in the country, and read out the RCM's figures showing that there is not enough capacity for Salford women at St Mary's. She also underlined the opposition in Salford to the closure, concluding…
"If you confirm this decision there will be chaos for the future…ambulances chasing across Greater Manchester looking for somewhere for women to give birth…You will live to regret this decision."
Before the NHS North West Board made its decision, Blears asked two questions…
"Why are you closing the best unit in Greater Manchester?"
"Where will 1500 Salford women go when there's no room at St Mary's?"
She never got any answers at all as the NHS Board voted unanimously to close Hope Maternity Unit.
Speaking after the meeting Jill Morrison, a Salford mum who had a premature baby at Hope, said she was "absolutely disgusted…I was just hoping that by some miracle they'd got it wrong and that they'd change the decision today.
"I can't believe what's just happened" she added "I don't know how they've come to this decision. Now there's not going to be a Salford city as such – we're going to be taken over by Manchester yet again. And it's all wrong."
The next step for the Keep Hope Maternity Open campaign is to launch a judicial review into the decision.
"Today we've lost the battle" said Jill "But the war goes on…"