Protest march to save in-patient maternity services in Honiton

A demonstration against cutbacks to Honiton s maternity post-natal care service is to take place next week at an East Devon town, on Monday (29 March).

A demonstration against cutbacks to Honiton's maternity post-natal care service is to take place next week at an East Devon town, on Monday (29 March).

It comes just days before the 1 April, when the changes are due to be formally implemented.

The event will be held outside East Devon District Council's offices in Sidmouth and is expected to draw large crowds of local people who are passionately against plans to send mums home from Honiton maternity ward, within a few hours (possibly two hours) of giving birth.

Local councillors and National Childbirth Trust (NCT) representatives will join the protestors, as resolve strengthens that the vital service should, under no circumstances, be lost.

Devon County Councillor Roger Giles, said: "The post-natal care at Honiton is vital. There has been no, or very little, consultation about the plans and even worse, it appears that NHS Devon has already cut the service without telling anyone at all, which is absolutely outrageous."

Campaigners want NHS Devon to provide evidence that it is clinically safe to send mums home after two hours of giving birth.

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There are fears that the cutbacks are a short-sighted cost-cutting measure, which could have damaging implications for local mums, such as:

* an increase in post-natal depression

* a fall in the numbers of women breast-feeding, which could also lead to a rise in health issues for babies

* exhausted mothers struggling to cope at home, which could lead to illness

* health problems or infections not being spotted early, which could cause a rise in emergency admissions at the RD&E Hospital

Fiona Laitinen (wife of Cllr William Laitinen) said: "I stayed at Honiton after I had our son and I struggled to breast-feed. The midwives at Honiton gave me round the clock help and attention (for three days and nights).

"If it wasn't for their unwavering help and support I would not have been able to breast-feed my son and for this I will always be immensely grateful."

Hundreds of women have told (via comments on Facebook campaigns) how they also would not have breast-fed their babies if it wasn't for Honiton or Tiverton maternity ward midwives spending hours with them helping and advising.

This is something that the NCT views as worrying.

In a letter to Tracey Reeves, head of RD&E midwifery services, NCT representative, Meeri Wallace says: "In light of these cutbacks the NCT anticipates that Devon PCT will see a reduction in the number of mothers breast-feeding their children and the complications for mother and child associated with this, an increase in the number of mothers giving up breast-feeding sooner then they would have wanted to and also an increase in the number of mothers experiencing post-natal depression."

She continued: "We urge you to reconsider the proposed downgrading of this hugely important and first-class care facility, the loss of which would be hugely detrimental to so many people living in Honiton and countless surrounding rural villages."

A groundswell of opposition continues to rise. Over 3,500 people have now joined Facebook groups against the plans and campaigners have been inundated with requests for copies of petitions, from mums across East Devon who want to 'do their bit.'

Honiton Town Council is planning a public meeting for the evening of Friday 16 April in the Mackarness Hall, and has invited a representative of NHS Devon to explain the reasons behind the cutbacks.

Honiton Town Councillor, Vernon Whitlock, said: "Honiton is very proud of its community hospital and dedicated staff. We have previously fought successfully to retain the 24 hour minor injuries unit.

"The cutbacks to maternity services without any consultation with the town council or the local community, is totally unacceptable and we must call the decision-makers to account."

Three Ottery St Mary Town councillors have yet to receive a reply to a letter to NHS Devon's chief executive, demanding answers to a series of questions about the proposals, including what plans NHS Devon has for consultation and what are the associated costs in connection with the changes.

Cllrs Roger Giles, Claire Wright and William Laitinen emailed the letter to Ms James on 10 March.

The Devon County Council Health and Adults Services Scrutiny Committee, which met on 11 March, did not support five recommendations concerning proposals for the community maternity services at risk in Honiton, Tiverton and Okehampton Hospitals.