The extra distance some mums-to-be in labour will now have to travel if community hospitals lose their maternity units could be as long as an hour or nearly 30 miles in good traffic conditions.
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This week a review looking at a range of acute services in hospitals in Exeter, Plymouth, Torquay and Barnstaple recommended all four acute hospitals in Devon would continue with A&E, emergency stroke services and maternity services. It also calls for closer working between hospitals.
However, the plans could potentially result in relocating four midwifery-led units at Newton Abbot, Okehampton, Honiton and Tiverton alongside consultant-led units at its main hospital sites. Travel comparisons to show how far people will have to travel have been made using the community hospital in each town as the starting point of the journey and the final destination being its next closest hospital.
The worst hit area will be Okehampton because its nearest unit will be the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital which is around 45 minutes away, or nearly 30 miles. It’s second nearest option is either Torquay Hospital which is 51 miles away, or 41 miles, or Plymouth’s Derriford Hospital which is 55 minutes away, or 28 miles away.
Some could travel as far as Holsworthy to Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, a journey longer than one hour.
In Tiverton mums will either have to travel a 32 minute journey of 24 miles to the RD&E, or a 45 minute to North Devon District Hospital which is 30 miles away.
In Honiton the nearest hospital will be the RD&E which is 16 mile journey which will take around 25 minutes. If Newton Abbot’s maternity unit closes, its nearest will be Torquay Hospital which is 5.8 miles away, or 15 miles.
Figures within the review state that out of the 12,285 births in Devon last year, 89 per cent took place in the main specialist hospital maternity units, with a further five per cent at the alongside midwifery-led unit at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital.
The acute services review was undertaken because doctors said key acute hospital services were likely to become unsustainable in future due to difficulty recruiting key clinical staff, large increases in demand for services – and difficulty meeting national service standards. The clinical recommendations are the first stage in the review. As part of the second stage, the recommendations will be tested in more detail to ensure they can be delivered with safe, cost-effective and reliable staffing solutions for the future.
Health commissioner Northern, Eastern and Western (NEW) Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said that once this assurance work is complete, only then can the recommendations be finalised. Should the final proposals be likely to result in significant change to local services, the public will be fully consulted in line with the NHS’ statutory requirements. A full timetable would also be developed and published.