CLOSURE-THREATENED hospital maternity services have received a stay of execution after a decision over their future was delayed for at least six months.

Board members of County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust (CDDFT) have agreed to postpone the possibility of any service closures at Darlington Memorial Hospital.

A trust spokeswoman said the delay would allow "more sustainable options" to be explored, but last night Darlington MP Jenny Chapman warned the continuing uncertainty is damaging staff morale.

There have been fears over services at Darlington Memorial Hospital since a draft of the region’s Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) was published, prompted by NHS England, which could see the hospital lose its accident and emergency and other departments.

The Northern Echo: PROTEST: Protestors at Darlington Memorial Hospital demonstrating over plans to change NHS services. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT.

PROTEST: An earlier protest at Darlington Memorial Hospital over the Sustainability and Transformation Plan Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The start of the formal consultation process on the STP proposals was postponed earlier this year, but the plans remain very much on the table.

A CDDFT spokeswoman last night confirmed maternity services would remain unchanged for at least another six months.

She said: “At a meeting of the Board of CDDFT on July 12, clinical leaders from obstetrics, gynaecology and paediatrics shared the pressures being faced by these services. The trust board recognised the pressures and that these were being seen not just within County Durham and Darlington but also more widely across the region.

"The board agreed to measures which will support the services so they can continue as they are for a period of six months initially, while more sustainable options can be further explored.”

Ms Chapman welcomed the temporary delay in making a final decision, but said: "I think the longer the uncertainty goes on the worse it gets but I would rather they postponed the decision than make the decision to downgrade the hospital - to that extent I welcome it.

"We need to fight hard to save our services, it's not just the maternity services, there is also the A&E department and paediatrics service to protect.

"The continued uncertainty will affect staff retention, recruitment and morale, but through all uncertainty the staff have been doing an absolutely wonderful job."

Proposals to changes hospital services in southern County Durham and the Tees Valley are due to be published later this year. The review is one of dozens of plans being drawn up around the country.

In the draft STP for southern County Durham, Darlington, Tees Valley and northern North Yorkshire, either Darlington or North Tees hospital would lose their current status and be downgraded.

Campaigner Jo Land, of the group 999 Call for the NHS, said: "The hospital trust’s decision to shore up its maternity and children’s services for the next six months while looking for more “sustainable” options as part of the cuts-driven STP – aka the Better Health Programme – does not bode well for the future of these services in Darlington Memorial Hospital.

"It’s time for the trust to say in plain English, not in confusing code, what is going on. We know that “sustainability” means cuts and "transformation" means privatisation. So exactly what options for maternity and children’s services are the trust considering? Trust papers we have seen seem to suggest that consultant-led maternity services at DMH are going to close.

"Our sister group, Fighting 4 Hartlepool Hospital, know only too well how the loss of maternity services quickly leads to a shell of a hospital. None of these decisions are about the needs of local people.

"The NHS is underfunded and short-staffed as a result of deliberate government policies and decisions. This government must fund the NHS properly, lift staff pay caps, restore nurses’ bursaries and scrap the wasteful use of private companies in the NHS."