THE future of maternity services in Winchester has been thrown into doubt, sparking fears that mothers may have to travel further for urgent care.

Plans are being developed for a new hospital in or near Basingstoke, raising concerns that it will mean a long-term downgrading of services at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester.

Full maternity units staffed by midwives and doctors are currently available at both Florence Portal House in Winchester, and Basingstoke. There is a midwifery-led birthing centre at Andover.

Concerns have now been aired that consultant-led care could be removed from the unit at the Romsey Road site.

The issue was raised by NCT Winchester branch coordinator Bryony Farrant who asked health chiefs how this would affect birth choices and the impact that this will have on safety.

Lara Alloway, chief medical officer for Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, responded during a meeting coined Ask the NHS, organised by MP Steve Brine.

She said: “There are some of our services that are smaller, and we are providing twice, so are more challenged. Maternity services and neonatal services are some of those, so we are still developing the final options, but we do have options whereby the consultant-led obstetrics would be moved to the acute centralised hospital, we do have an option where it will stay in Winchester as well.

“We know that the number of births in Winchester and Basingstoke are under the number you would expect for the level of neonatal care and keeping the services safe and up to date. Providing the consultant cover for the hours that we believe are safe, and have come in from the Ockenden review, is a real challenge.”

Dr Alloway continued: “I think safety is a real question here. For all options we would still have antenatal and postnatal care on the Winchester site, the things that people need to attend multiple times we would have as locally as possible.”

She added: “The Ockenden Review...was all about how we make sure people with high-risk deliveries are cared for and that requires intensive obstetrics support and other support associated to it. For safety there are significant advantages of centralising the obstetrics-led delivery service but recognising that we still want to have a midwife-led unit and antenatal and postnatal care in the option where we centralise in Winchester.

“We do have an option where we provide still, as we do now, obstetrics-led care in Winchester as well as in a new acute hospital and then what we will need is a neonatal unit to support it as we have now, but our neonatal units are not looking after enough babies to continue to provide the intensive care that they provide now.”

If the units continue as they are now, they would be downgraded to a level 1 neonatal unit to support the obstetric-led service, but if neonatal care was centralised then the unit would be able to look after babies from 27 weeks.

The Ockenden report was an independent maternity review into cases of serious and potentially serious concern at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust. It also sets out actions that can make a difference to the safe provision of maternity services everywhere.

Bryony said: “I really take the point about safety for high-risk pregnancies but I’m imagining that actually represents a small number of pregnancies compared to the average number of pregnancies and births. I am wondering about those scenarios where the birth wasn’t flagged as a high-risk pregnancy but suddenly becomes high-risk and requires transfer and how that impacts not just on the safety but also on the psychological experience for the mother and the father and what that means for their experience for positive birth.”

Following the meeting, Mr Brine added: “I am very uncomfortable about any move away from Winchester of consultant-led maternity services. It’s more important than ever for the clinicians to make their case and be totally honest with us about what we gain and what we lose.”