NHS accused of penny pinching over maternity services

PUBLISHED: 14:47 14 April 2010 | UPDATED: 01:07 16 June 2010

FEARS over the future of a maternity unit, held in high regard by mums in East Devon, sparked a heated and emotional debate which saw a GP accuse health chiefs of penny pinching and being economical with the truth.

FEARS over the future of a maternity unit, held in high regard by mums in East Devon, sparked a heated and emotional debate which saw a GP accuse health chiefs of "penny pinching" and being "economical with the truth."

For the second month running, Ottery St Mary Town Council was unable to make a decision on what stance to take over proposed changes to maternity services at Honiton Community Hospital.

After seeking clarity from NHS Devon last month, the council received a 2,000-word e-mail response from the authority just seven minutes before its full meeting began last Monday night.

Some councillors wanted the council to send a "strong message" to the NHS "expressing concern" over any changes in service in Honiton, then fierce ensuing discussions on the topic saw one councillor plead: "Can we keep to business and stop slagging one another off."

Before talks, Dr John Ackroyd, a practising GP of 35 years, told councillors he fears NHS chiefs are being "economical with the truth" over the future of the maternity service.

He said: "To be penny pinching at such a crucial time in a young child's life would be tantamount to negligence," adding: "I'm opposed to the changes."

NHS Devon is adamant no changes will be made to maternity services at Honiton Community Hospital without public discussion.

The trust had addressed fears and a passionate campaign by saying the earliest any changes could happen is the end of the summer and acted to dispel what it calls "myths" circulating over the matter.

NHS Devon chiefs have explained the current position to members of East Devon District Council's county committee.

They have also made it clear the management of the service changed on April 1 - not the service itself.

Councillor Ray Bloxham, who attended the EDDC meeting, wanted the NHS to be given a chance to deliver on its promises.

"One decision has been made," said Cllr Bloxham, "all of the service's staff were transferred under the management of the RD and E Trust on April 1.

"This will bring it under one roof to deliver a better service. We need to give them (NHS) the opportunity to provide this new service in the way they have described.

"If they don't, I will be at the front of the queue to ask them why."

Cllr William Laitinen labelled NHS Devon consultation claims as "ridiculous". "A decision has been made, services have been changed," he said.

"We have to be robust in our defence of this outstanding service. Cynicism will go a long way with this.... let's not take it at face value."

"I'm disgusted with EDDC for not challenging the NHS.... shame on them, and shame on this council," he added.

Cllr Roger Giles was "sorry to say" he believed his colleagues were "gullible" and "hoodwinked" by "guff" and "generalisations" from NHS chiefs.

"Why don't we listen to Dr Ackroyd, a GP of 35 years, and Dr Tim Cox - both forthright in their criticisms," he said.

Cllr Giles said he had spoken to hundreds who are "outraged" over proposals, adding: "A first class service is under threat. They (the electorate) want us to do something about it, and do it now."

Cllr Bloxham said: "It is dangerous to talk like this".

Chairing the meeting, Mayor Glyn Dobson told Cllrs Giles, Laitinen and Claire Wright they would have the council's full backing - when the matter is clarified.

"Everybody is telling us different things, we need someone from the NHS to come here and tell us what is planned," said Cllr Dobson.

"If this is correct, the council will support you 100 per cent, but for them to do that we need all of the facts.

Councillors voted eight to four in favour of seeking further clarity from the NHS.


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