Maternity closure plan stupid, says former chief

PLANS to close the Queen Mother’s Hospital in Glasgow have been described as "stupid and naive" by a former Yorkhill clinician and chairman of the NHS Trust.

Professor Forrester Cockburn, dismissed claims made by Greater Glasgow NHS Board to support the decision as "manifest nonsense", warning that the only reason for closing the world-famous maternity unit and its unique link with the adjacent Royal Hospital for Sick Children was to save money.

Prof Cockburn - along with five other retired neo-natal paediatricians - has already derided health board plans as "vandalising maternity services".

Yesterday, Prof Cockburn said: "They are going to destroy 40 years of work building up Yorkhill as a unique centre for treating mothers and babies.

"If the Queen Mother's closes, they will destroy Yorkhill’s service for very young babies.

"Neonatologists - the doctors who treat them - will scatter. No neonatologist will stay at a hospital where babies are not born.

"They will not be able to keep up their skill and expertise."

Prof Cockburn added: "Babies respond to treatment better when they are close to their mothers - and mothers get better when they are close to their babies.

"That was the vision of Ian Donald, the doctor who decided to build a new maternity hospital at Yorkhill.

"If you take away the maternity unit from Yorkhill, you take away the neonatal paediatric service too, because it can’t function without a maternity hospital to work in.

"It is stupid and naive to suggest otherwise.

"All Yorkhill’s baby expertise will be lost if the Queen Mum's closes and it would take at least a generation to build it up again."

Prof Cockburn came to Glasgow a quarter of a century ago because Yorkhill had become a world centre of excellence in his field, perinatalogy - the treatment of women and babies from labour through the first all-important month of the baby’s life.

He served Yorkhill hospitals for more than a quarter of a century, first as Glasgow University’s Professor of Child Health and then, from 1997 to 2001, as chairman of Yorkhill NHS Trust and a member of Greater Glasgow Health Board.

Prof Cockburn said he can see no clinical imperative for closing the Queen Mother’s.

Instead he firmly believes money lies behind the board’s determination to shut one of its maternity hospitals.

He said: "The board has a duty to use its resources to best effect and it has property which is getting on in years.

"It has huge pressures with ageing Victorian hospitals around the city. And it has found closing the Queen Mum’s is a way to save money."

The health board officially decided it had to shut one of its maternity hospitals in 1999, citing falling city birth rates.

This May it set up a working group to come up with a recommendation on whether the Queen Mother’s, or a smaller maternity unit at the Southern General, should close.

The group spent the summer sifting through evidence from experts from across Britain, with submissions opposing the closure of the Queen Mother’s outnumbering those supporting it by four-to-one.

In October it announced its recommendations: the Queen Mother’s should close and that, in the long-term, the whole Yorkhill site should be shut in favour of a new super-hospital providing adult, children's and maternity care at the Southern General.

Prof Cockburn, who spoke to the working group, said he could find no trace of his evidence in its findings.

Greater Glasgow NHS Board, dismissing calls for an independent inquiry into its decision-making, has now launched a public consultation on the proposals.

The board, in a series of glossy leaflets, has set out what it calls its "tough" decision, choosing whether to shut the Queen Mother’s or the Southern General unit.

It argues that the Queen Mother’s must close because the hospital cannot provide on-site intensive care for women, a point disputed by Yorkhill staff.

The board admits only a tiny number of women who develop life-threatening complications after labour have to be transferred to an adult hospital for intensive care.

But it says the risk of transferring that handful of women far outweighs the risk of moving scores of babies.