A DOWNGRADING of the maternity unit at Winchester hospital would overall improve care for babies and their mothers, says health bosses.

NHS specialists say the proposals to change the location of some maternity and neonatal services across Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (HHFT) could lead to better outcomes for parents-to-be and newborn babies.

The maternity unit at Florence Portal House at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital would become midwife-led under £700-900m plans to reconfigure hospital care across much of central and north Hampshire.

Other controversial changes include the closure of the A&E unit at the RHCH and its replacement by an urgent treatment centre. A new specialist acute hospital would be built near junction 7 of the M3 just south of Basingstoke or at the current hospital site in the town.

A public consultation is running until March 17.

READ MORE HERE: Health bosses to launch consultation on major changes to hospital care

The RHCH would focus more on planned procedures and operations. The new hospital would concentrate on strokes, heart attacks and life-threatening injuries. The RHCH urgent treatment centre would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and be doctor-led. Outpatients, diagnostics, and therapy services would also remain.

HHFT says its plans would see significant investment in Winchester hospital and give pregnant women and people more choice about how and where they give birth.

A new specialist acute hospital would have a birthing unit led by consultant obstetricians and a specialist neonatal care unit.

Avideah Nejad, Consultant in Maternal Fetal Medicine and Clinical Director for Women’s Health Services at the Trust, said maternity services needed to be re-organised: “Bringing doctor-led maternity services onto one site would mean we have consultants on site for more hours than we do at the moment, giving families and babies safer care.

“We considered options that included a specialist obstetrician-led maternity unit at Winchester. However, these services need to be located at a hospital that also provides emergency surgery and critical care, and located alongside a neonatal unit, which would only be provided at our new specialist acute hospital under our proposals."

SEE MORE: Concerns about changes to the RHCH in Winchester

Miss Nejad said: “Having one neonatal unit, instead of trying to staff two units, would mean we could bring our specialist staff together. It would also mean that the unit would see a high enough number of babies each year to look after those with more serious health problems than we can now. Currently, 100 babies each year have to go to Southampton or Frimley Park hospitals for treatment. Under our proposals, these babies could be looked after closer to their homes and families.

“Importantly, people’s antenatal and postnatal care – before and after giving birth – would continue to be provided where it is now.

“Doctors, midwives, nurses, with patients and the public, have thought long and hard about these proposals to create safe, sustainable maternity services for the future.”

Liz MacLeod, Head of Midwifery at Winchester and Andover hospitals, said: “We’re keen to listen to people’s views on all our proposals, including those around maternity care, and are encouraging as many as possible to take part on our consultation – this is your NHS, please do take the opportunity to have your say.”

To find out more, attend an event, or complete the questionnaire, visit www.hampshiretogether.nhs.uk. The consultation is open until midnight on March 17.