Maternity unit not financially efficient

TOO few babies are born at Hinchingbrooke Hospital to make the maternity unit financially efficient, according to new figures released by the East of England Strategic Health Authority. But the hospital does achieve the 40,000 patients a year attendance

TOO few babies are born at Hinchingbrooke Hospital to make the maternity unit

financially efficient, according to new figures released by the East of England Strategic Health Authority.

But the hospital does achieve the 40,000 patients a year attendance that makes the accident and emergency department viable.

The figures emerged from a benchmarking exercise the SHA has carried out as the first step in a root-and-branch review of the 19 district hospitals, including Hinchingbrooke, in the authority's six-county area.


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Hinchingbrooke had just under 2,500 births last year but, with 3,000-a-year needed for efficient use of consultant time - a figure that will rise to 4,000 as new standards come into force - it is losing more than £2million a year.

The hospital has now completed evaluation of the three SHA options for the future, all of which involved reducing the number of patients treated at the Huntingdon site. One involved retaining existing services in much the same configuration as now, the second streamlining them and the third transferring work wholesale to Cambridge and Peterborough, effectively downgrading Hinchingbrooke to cottage hospital status.

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When hospital managers have discussed the outcome of the three evaluations with the SHA, its findings will go to the county council's health scrutiny committee and Cambridgeshire Primary Care Trust, which provides most of the hospital's income and will ultimately decide on its future. A decision is expected around Easter.

A decision on the future of obstetrics and gynaecology presents a difficult challenge for NHS managers. Even together, Addenbrooke's and Peterborough could not accommodate the number of births that currently take place in Huntingdonshire.

Michael Lynch, former chairman of Hunts PCT, which was disbanded at the end of September, has suggested combining administration of the Hinchingbrooke unit with the Rosie unit at Addenbrooke's to save money. That is likely to have been one of the options under review..

One of the big problems for NHS managers is the increasingly narrow specialisation of some consultants.

As surgery and medicine become increasingly sophisticated, consultants specialise in the particular area of their field, even a

single surgical procedure.

Experience shows that the more often the same teams carry out procedures, the more likely the patient is to recover. But some procedures are so specialised that they need a patient catchment of five million - one-twelfth of Britain's population. Hinchingbrooke's catchment is 165,000, the SHA says.

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