Let’s have a rational discussion about the Women’s Hospital


The Liverpool Women’s Hospital provides an important service to women and new-born babies. We must carefully and rationally consider its future.

Four years ago, the life of my grandson Jonah was saved by the staff at the Women’s Hospital. He had a diaphragmatic hernia. His heart didn’t beat for 6 minutes and he did not breathe for 8 minutes. He was saved by a skilled consultant who thought something felt wrong although all the indicators were marginally OK.

I was reminded of this yesterday when someone spoke to me about the latest report which was issued about the future of the current establishment. “Surely,” I was told, “you must be going to fight for the future of that hospital”. To which my reply is, “Not necessarily”. You see it was not a building that saved Jonah’s life but a person who with a great team provided a great service.

That is, I believe, what should apply in the discussions and consultation which must now take place. The first discussion is, “what service or combination of services is needed to provide the best services for women and their babies.?” The second discussion is, “what is the best way of providing that service?”  Only then should the discussion centre around where that service should be provided.

I am not optimistic about the quality of the debate which will now ensue because it has not got off to a good start. People started dissing the latest report when they could not possibly have read it. They probably did so without knowing what a Clinical Senate is. In fact, very few people know what a clinical senate is so let me tell you.

The Senate is a group of ‘hands on’ medical practitioners from a range of relevant disciplines and a range of experiences. They are not administrators or bureaucrats. They are not intimately involved with this decision and will not personally be affected by it in terms of their jobs. Their task is clear and simple. To comment on proposals and say whether from a clinical/medical viewpoint these represent the best option. They seem to have concluded that it is.

I have spoken today to a none executive director of the Women’s Hospital and told him what I expect to see happen as part of the consultation.

Firstly, I want the consultation to be meaningful and go far beyond the statutory minimum.

Secondly, I want the report from the Clinical Senate to be widely distributed.

Thirdly, I want to hear the views of:

  • Community Midwives;
  • Staff at the hospital;
  • GPs;
  • Women who have had good experiences at the Women’s;
  • Women who have had bad experiences;
  • Women within the NHS in the area whose jobs are not connected with the Women’s.

Fourthly, I want to see a quality consultation process taking place in every ward in the City and beyond.

Fifthly, I want the clinical and medical need for change to be fully explained and justified.

Sixthly, only when the medical issues are dealt with do i want to know about the financial consequences of the options.

On top of that I want to know what will happen to the buildings. This hospital is a modern well-built and well-designed one. In Liverpool there is a huge shortage of quality adult care beds and the need for them is growing. It would seem that some of the Hospital could be rapidly and cheaply converted into high quality accommodation for this purpose. There may well be other and better uses of the building.

If the consultation does proceed on these lines then we should all respect that and listen to and carefully consider all the evidence before making our opinions known throughout the consultation process.

I have already told my Lib Dem councillors that if this matter does get debated in the Council we will have a free vote on the issue. These matters are too important to be left to Party or gesture politics. It would be too easy for any of us to adopt a knee-jerk reaction and just oppose change. That’s probably good for votes and good for ranting in the Council Chamber or elsewhere.

But it is not necessarily good for the children and women of Liverpool. When Jonah was fighting for life for his first 7 days they were the worst ever days in the lives of Erica and me. Never before, have I been totally unable to do anything except exist.

I will consider that carefully when I come to consider how I respond to the potential closure. I will be thinking about the other Jonah’s; I’ll be thinking about the experiences of Mums and Dads (and of course Grandmas and Grandpas); I’ll be thinking about the best service that they could have in future. Then, and only then, will I make my opinion known. This will not be an easy decision but having seen at first hand the quality of service provided it behoves me and everyone else to think carefully before we act.

PS Jonah is absolutely fine now. In fact, he was round at my house yesterday bullying his weak minded Grandpa into all sorts of things we don’t want Grandma or Mummy to know about!!

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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