Maternity unit closure forces Eastbourne woman to take hour taxi journey during labour

WATCH: ITV Meridian's Kit Bradshaw reports on local concerns over Eastbourne's hospital

The repeated closure of a hospital maternity unit forced one pregnant woman to take an hour-long taxi journey to give birth.

India Stoughton was forced to make the 20-mile trip from her home in Eastbourne to the Conquest Hospital in Hastings, when she went into labour at 2am on 28 October last year.

The plan had been for her to give birth at a local midwife-led unit but when she called, she was told they were closed due to staff shortages. 

The Eastbourne District General Hospital midwifery unit was shut for births on 87 days in 2023, according to data shared exclusively with ITV News Meridian. 

The figures, obtained by the local Liberal Democrats, mean the unit was closed 24 per cent of the time last year.

East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust said the “pauses to births” were because of the need to “ensure safe staffing levels”, with the national shortage of trained midwives presenting a “significant challenge”.

The unit has remained consistently closed for births since late December 2023, although outpatient antenatal and postnatal appointments have continued.

Expectant mothers are being informed that they can either have their baby at home or at hospital in Hastings.

Eastbourne Hospital’s midwife-led unit was closed due to staff shortages for almost a quarter of days in 2023.

India Stoughton said: “It's a really long way to go to Hastings by taxi. It took us almost an hour. It’s a really upsetting state of affairs especially for first time parents who are already anxious about giving birth.”

Some local parents are also unhappy with the closure of the Short Stay Paediatric Assessment Unit, with its care moving to the Emergency Department. 

Helen Diplock said: “For us as a family, it had become a safe space. So, actually it was a bit like losing one of our limbs in some ways. And when we've been to hospital since they started to reduce the services, it's not the same at all.”

Her 7-year-old daughter Rosie visited the old unit regularly due to her congenital heart disease and damaged lungs. 

The Lib Dem general election candidate for Eastbourne, Josh Babarinde, told ITV News Meridian: “It feels like our health services are being eroded in Eastbourne and that is not good enough. 

“I was born in that hospital. It means so much to me and so much to people across our town. We must preserve it, which is why the government must intervene.”

WATCH: India Stoughton explains why she was forced to take a taxi during labour

Conservative MP Caroline Ansell has asked the Department of Health to use new powers to intervene and review the changes to paediatric services at the hospital. 

“I have spoken with the health secretary, I’ve spoken with the minister, I'm speaking with the hospital trust, I'm speaking with the ICB. Most importantly, I'm speaking to parents. Confidence in the proposals and in the changes is absolutely vital,” Ms Ansell said. 

East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust declined an interview request. In a statement a spokesperson said: “The pauses to births in 2023 were related to us needing to ensure safe staffing levels across our maternity services. We are continuing to work hard on both short term and long term solutions to our midwifery staffing issues.”

On paediatrics, the spokesperson added: “Eastbourne DGH provides urgent care for the majority of paediatric cases in the emergency department and urgent treatment centre, and previously a small number of children were supported by the Short Stay Paediatric Assessment Unit, which is some distance away from the emergency department. 

“During 2022/23, nearly thirteen and a half thousand children presented to our emergency department (ED) and, of these, 341 were transferred to the assessment unit for further review.

“The improvements we have introduced mean that all children will be seen in the paediatric area in ED and there will be increased paediatric expertise to ensure children are seen sooner, reducing waiting times.

“It is important to note that patients that currently receive their care at Eastbourne DGH will continue to receive their care there, we are not transferring any services to the Conquest.”

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