Maternity report neutrality queried

The Southern District Health Board has questioned whether a new report into its controversial decision to change the Lumsden Maternity Centre from a primary birthing unit to a maternal and child hub is a genuinely independent assessment.

The report, commissioned by former centre operators the Northern Southland Medical Trust, found that the decision to close Lumsden’s primary birthing unit was made using incorrect data and risked the safety of mothers and babies.

The report was written by midwifery academic Pauline Dawson; in her foreword she said it was an independent piece of work completed by the author on a voluntary basis for the trust.

SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said while he acknowledged and respected the author, he believed Ms Dawson had not spoken to all key stakeholders.

"We do not know whether this obvious shortcoming of the review was of the reviewer’s making or the instructions of Northern Southland Medical Trust who clearly commissioned the review," Mr Fleming said.

"The report unfortunately therefore cannot be viewed as being genuinely independent ... there are comments in the report that the DHB does not agree with, however we are not intending on re-litigating the detail again through the media."

While Mr Fleming felt the report was "largely a repeat" of arguments the trust had made in the past, it did contain some valuable content.

"In particular, her summary of some evidence of risks that can be associated with service changes and impact of travel times on birthing was helpful.

"I have asked our director of midwifery and the Maternity Quality and Safety Governance Group to consider the points made."

The SDHB decided to alter the service provided at Lumsden as part of a region-wide review of maternity services.

The SDHB commissioned its own independent report, from accountancy firm Ernst and Young, into the process of implementing that review — but not of the decisions taken by the board.

That found that governance of the review was informal, unclear, inconsistent and lacked accountability, while project management ‘‘lacked the level of maturity required for a project of this scale’’.

Mr Fleming said many of the issues raised by Ms Dawson had been dealt with by Ernst and Young, and an accompanying review of urgent births.

"We have openly acknowledged some of the issues in the transition ... we are committed to implementing the recommendations of these reports."

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