HEALTH bosses have sought to reassure pregnant women that maternity services at Darlington Memorial Hospital are safe and that work is ongoing to improve the department following a damning review.

It was announced today, (Tuesday, June 14) that women expecting twins in the Darlington area, and any new twin pregnancies, will be delivered at Middlesbrough’s James Cook Hospital on a temporary basis.

The move came in the wake of an external review of maternity services within the County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust which highlighted concerns around staff bullying and poor working relations in Darlington.

The review, carried out by officials at the York Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, concluded that Darlington’s maternity services were safe, but now as an interim measure twin deliveries will take place in Middlesbrough for an unspecified period.

There are currently nine expectant women affected, and the Darlington hospital normally delivers between 25 and 30 twin births annually.

Joanna Crawford, head of midwifery and gynaecology at the trust, said that the link with James Cook was not a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ but was about ensuring that the experience of mothers expecting twins was as positive as possible.

She said: “I think it is about making sure that mums understand that this move is a really positive move, that we are actually ensuring that mums get the very best pathway by working with the South Tees Foundation.”

Trust chief executive Sue Jacques stressed there was no intention to make the move permanent, but that some new measures being implemented such as a staff buddying system would likely remain as they ‘made clinical sense’.

Responding to the concerns outlined in the external review, trust executive medical director Professor Chris Gray, said that work has being ongoing for the last 18-months to improve staff relations within the department.

This has involved a national team of experts and an occupational psychologist working with staff to address internal problems.

Prof Gray said: “We brought them in to help develop the team, help develop those relations and help develop the engagement, and that work is progressing quite well.

“But changing culture and changing individuals needs time, it isn’t simply about identifying individuals and disciplining them because qualities such as being strong-willed are actually what you need in clinical situations where there is an emergency.

“It is about trying to get the balance right and trying to use the skills of the team we have in a more considered way.”

Prof Gray said that the public and the trust itself expects a certain rate of improvement and if that cannot be achieved in the current system then changes must be made, hence the interim link with James Cook in regard to twin births.

Ms Jacques added that the hospital was acting honestly and responsibly by reviewing its practices and making changes where necessary.

She said: “One thing that our team might comment on is that we have undertaken this review ourselves and I think it is important that an organisation has the insight and the ability to act when it sees that it can make improvements and there are opportunities there rather than wait for something to happen to it.

“So as the chief executive I very much hope and believe we are being very responsible and proportionate in all the actions we have taken.”

The change to the twin deliveries, albeit temporary, comes against the backdrop of the ongoing Better Health Programme that is reviewing how health services are organised across County Durham and the Tees Valley.

This has led to some commentators expressing fears that the twin maternity move is about removing a service from Darlington and relocating it to Middlesbrough.

However Ms Jacques is very clear that the measure is temporary and “completely disconnected” from the wider work of the Better Health Programme.

She added that she understood people’s concerns because the NHS is generally viewed as one of the country’s best assets and she assured the public that the trust would continue to be as open and transparent as it could be.

Expectant women concerned about how any changes to the Darlington department will affect them are advised to contact their midwife.