CAMPAIGNERS fear for the future of Darlington Memorial Hospital, amid growing pressures to reduce running costs.

Earlier this week the hospital's maternity services were in the spotlight as a temporary plan to centralise care was being investigated by County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust (CDDFT).

And now it has been revealed that financial pressure could result in patients waiting longer to be treated while some services could be redirected to other hospitals under the Trust's control.

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Although, the CDDFT has assured hospital users that patient safety will remain paramount, one seasoned campaigner believes the threat to the future of the hospital's maternity services could result further problems as highlighted by the latest leak from a hospital insider.

Jo Land, of 999 Call for the NHS, a national campaign group founded in Darlington, said: "We have believed for a long time that Darlington Memorial Hospital (DMH) is being undermined.

"If there is a pattern developing of Darlington ladies being diverted to maternity units in other towns, such as the move of twin births from DMH to James Cook, then as money follows the patient it is unsurprising that consultant-led maternity services at DMH are under threat.

"There has been a threat to consultant-led maternity at DMH for a number of years now. Staff are aware of this, as last year's external review made clear. Morale is low and staff have been blamed for shortcomings in maternity services at a time when the NHS has never been more under resourced.

"It is unsurprising that DMH is understaffed if staff perceive that it does not have a future. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Staff can and will vote with their feet when so many staff vacancies go unfilled across the country."

She added: "Once there are grounds to close a unit due to health and safety concerns, legal consultation can be bypassed. Do not fall for the idea that any closure of maternity services at DMH will be 'temporary' – such closures have soon become permanent in services all over the country – in my campaigning work, I see it all the time.

"Consultant-led maternity services and acute hospital services such as A&E and intensive care go hand-in-hand, in case the lives of both mothers and babies are at risk.

"If we lose consultant-led maternity at DMH, the chance of us being the preferred option for the location of A&E must surely drop dramatically."

On Tuesday, the Trust said that no decision had been taken over the future of maternity services but reiterated that any decision taken next month would be on a temporary basis.

A Trust spokeswoman said: "Patient safety must be our priority. The Trust and the local clinical commissioning groups have a duty to regularly assess and review services to ensure that patients are receiving safe, high quality care. When there are increasing pressures we need to act responsibly and discuss with partners and our clinical teams how we can continue to provide a safe and effective service and implement any temporary action if required.”

In January, Darlington Borough Council announced plans to hold an inquiry into proposals that critics fear could lead to the downgrading of hospital services and the closure of the A&E department at either Darlington Memorial Hospital or the University Hospital of University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton.

The controversial Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) envisages the establishment of two specialist emergency hospitals in the region – Middlesbrough’s James Cook University Hospital and either DMH or North Tees.