Last week we heard the news that the maternity service provided at the Fryatt Hospital is to be closed. This is a bitter blow for all of us who have campaigned to keep the service open over the last few years. You may have seen the head of the Colchester Hospital NHS University Foundation Trust, who provide the service, on the news explaining that this has been done because the service is too expensive to keep running. This may well be true. The service costs the NHS a huge amount more than maternity services usually do. But why is this?
The problem lies with the building itself. The Fryatt was built to bring services to Harwich. The previous Labour government was so keen to build our hospital that they agreed a deal to fund it that was reckless and unaffordable. This agreement is the cause of the problems we see today. If Colchester Hospital want to offer services there they have to pay rent, similar to the rent you pay for a house or flat. The level of rent to pay is so high that every service on offer costs the NHS far more than it should.
But what can we do about it? I opposed the closure of the maternity service when it was first discussed some years ago, and I still oppose it now. It is true that the service is underused. It was built to handle possibly a thousand of births a year and so far this year it has only had close to 40 births. But closure is not the right choice. The NHS should be looking at how it can fix this problem.
Colchester should be encouraging more people to come to Harwich for their births. We have amazing facilities and plenty of space to provide a top notch service. Even if the service closes, the rent for the building still has to be paid. All this does is move the cost to another part of the NHS. This is not the right approach to take.
It is good to that ante-natal, post-natal and consultant clinics will still carry on, as well as other maternity services. But this is still a hugely disappointing decision.
I will be writing to the Chief Executive at Colchester and the head of our local GP service group to explain my opposition to the closure, and to ask them to work together to find ways of bringing more service to Harwich instead of taking them away. The Fryatt is there, they must make use of it.