Why a top judge is against changes to our health services
His concerns as ... a former member of Health Authority ... as a legal expert ... and as a grandfather
A TOP judge today joined the chorus of disapproval over plans to shift hospital services from Huddersfield.
And for His Honour Judge Graham Cliffe, there was a special, personal reason for the opposition.
His grandson, McKenzie, survived thanks to expert care readily on hand at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary.
McKenzie's mum Angie Cliffe developed complications during her labour and had to be rushed into the intensive care unit.
Both mother and baby survived, and now live happily in Edinburgh.
But Mr Justice Cliffe believes that had mother and baby had to be transferred to Halifax - as under the proposals - the outcome could have been tragic.
In a moving letter to the Examiner, he also cites legal worries which could cost the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust millions in compensation as another reason why the proposals should not go ahead.
The judge said: "For a number of reasons I have been following with interest the correspondence in the Examiner about the transfer of some maternity facilities from HRI to Calderdale.
"As a former member of Huddersfield Health Authority for four years, I recall that in the mid-1980's the clear medical advice to members from consultant obstetricians was that the safest place for any mother to give birth is in hospital, because unexpected emergencies sometimes arise, which may put the life of the mother and/or baby at risk.
"Last year my daughter-in-law gave birth to my grandson at HRI. After a completely trouble-free pregnancy, a crisis arose during the course of her labour which necessitated an immediate caesarean operation, which was carried out within 30 minutes of the problem being diagnosed.
"After she had spent a few hours in the intensive care unit and my grandson a similar time in the special care baby unit, they were reunited and all was well. How different the outcome might have been had my daughter-in-law faced a, possibly slow, journey to Halifax before surgical intervention could begin.
"I have no reason to believe that medical opinion on what is best for mother and baby has changed since the 1980s, but it may be that the people of Huddersfield would be reassured if the present generation of consultants was to confirm that the proposed arrangements represent a safer and superior service to that which exists at the moment.
"On the other hand, if they have any misgivings, the consultants should be encouraged to express them, openly and fearlessly, with the chairman and chief executive of the trust making it clear that there can be no question of contractual restraints on their freedom to give an objective opinion on a matter of such intense public interest.
"In my present work I sometimes encounter tragic cases, where a lack or prompt action has resulted in catastrophic injuries to a newborn child. These represent real human tragedies that affect families for decades into the future. For that reason they are the most expensive cases for the NHS Trusts to settle and damages in excess of £3m are increasingly common.
"Only last month the High Court decided that a hospital was in breach of its duty of care, by proceeding to deliver a baby by forceps on the ward in circumstances where accepted obstetric management technique had required a trail of forceps in theatre. It was held that the resulting cerebral palsy suffered by the baby had been caused by the hospital's negligence.
"Would such a case be properly dealt with under the proposed arrangements?
"There must be serious doubt as to whether, in the 21st Century, an NHS trust would be considered to be discharging it's duty of care to its patients by withdrawing from a hospital in a large town a level of service, when such provision already exists.
"Any future adverse finding against the trust, in the type of case referred to, would be very expensive and would surely result in a reversal of the proposed arrangements, or a decision to have all births in the safer environment of Calderdale hospital.
"It is questionable whether the scheme under consideration makes sense either medically or financially."