My children and grandchildren were born at Ealing Hospital but sadly it seems another generation of Sharmas will not be.
Ealing maternity unit has been condemned for closure by this Tory-led government since the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt made his decision in October 2013. Since then it has been a slow and lingering death of a proud and excellent service that has served Ealing mothers and their families so well for decades.
The latest execution date where we may find out when the unit will actually close has been set for March 18 when, ironically just days after Mother’s Day, Ealing Clinical Commissioning Group will discuss plans for the closure and alternative services for Ealing mums. We are still not sure if a summer closure date will be set on the 18th March as those making the decision have a lot to think about and have been equivocating since November last year.
Even at this late stage I would plead with them for a stay of execution and for Ealing's maternity unit to be saved. Let me set out the reasons why.
Firstly, it makes no sense to reduce maternity capacity in the borough with the third highest birth-rate in the capital and which has seen a 30% increase in birth-rate over the last 10 years. This high birth-rate is going to continue with Ealing predicted to grow to 400,000 people by 2030 and with a larger than average younger adult population of child bearing age.
Secondly, arguments about safety must be paramount in this crucial decision. It is obvious that if Ealing mums have to travel much further out of the borough to deliver their babies then the risks to both mother and child increase. Also recent Care Quality Commission reports about the standard of care at alternative maternity services at Northwick Park where the maternity service was judged 'inadequate' and Hillingdon where they cited capacity issues with a lack of midwives are causing serious concerns.
The lack of adequate alternative services for A&E patients in Ealing after the closure of Central Middlesex and Hammersmith A&Es last September brought chaos to our A&Es with the worst waiting times in the country. We don't want a repeat of this in maternity! Ealing's own midwives have recently publicly warned of such dangers and feared for the lives of their patients if these changes go ahead.
Finally it makes no sense to break up a dedicated team of midwives at Ealing who have hundreds of years of professional service, experience and knowledge of Ealing's mothers. Equally having invested over £2m of taxpayers’ money in Ealing's maternity unit with a brand new state of the art birthing unit in recent years it makes no financial sense whatsoever.
Notwithstanding these clear arguments this whole sorry saga has been characterised by political deception even to the door of the Prime Minister himself. Back in June 2011 following the Prime Minister's visit to Ealing Hospital I asked him in PMQs about future plans to close A&E and maternity services at Ealing. I didn't get a straight answer.
He said: "There are no plans to close the hospital. Indeed a new Urgent Care Centre is due to open in July and the maternity unit has a phased redevelopment process in progress.” Given what the public now know - that Ealing Hospital will be bulldozed and its A&E and maternity unit closed - I expect them to give the Tories and the Prime Minister a straight answer on 7th May.