Lower Normandy is to lose one of its maternity units after the regional health authority confirmed that the birthing section at Vire hospital will not re-open following an inquiry into the death of a premature baby.
The decision comes after a year long saga during which staff opposed to the permanent closure of the maternity unit went on strike. Just a few weeks ago the hospital in Calvados asked for its gynaecological and obstetrics unit licence to be renewed.
But now Pierre-Jean Lancry, regional health authority director has announced that officials do not believe that the hospital can provide sufficient maternity care. â€˜I have taken the decision not to renew the licences,â€™ he confirmed.
Concerns began about care at the maternity unit became public in April 2011 when a premature baby died when it was being transferred from Vire to the main University Hospital centre in Caen. An investigation concluded that there had been serious safety issues during the birth of the baby and in July 2012 the birthing unit in Vire was closed.
Staff and local people were opposed to the closure which resulted in strikes and several demonstrations outside the hospital. At one point officials indicated that if a new head of gynaecology could be recruited then the unit could re-open. The post was advertised and doctors were interviewed but still no appointment was made.
Mr Lancry said that the failure to find someone of a suitable calibre for the post meant that it was inevitable that the maternity unit should be closed.
â€˜To have a functioning maternity unit you need someone with experience to at least senior hospital doctor level. It needs someone who is registered with the College of Physicians. The three candidates put forward for the post were one Spaniard and two Romanians who are not registered with the French College and therefore cannot be given the job,â€™ he explained. He added that a senior gynaecologist currently working at the hospital is not experienced enough in surgery.
The Mayor of Vire Jean-Yves Cousin and Regional Councillor Annie Bihel said they were upset by the decision and claimed that the health authority had changed the goal posts by suddenly increasing the level of experience needed for the job to hospital surgery level.
But Mr Lancry denied this. â€˜There has not been a stable approach to maternity care at Vire since July 2010. It is now time to turn the page and move on,â€™ he said, adding that maternity services at Vire will now be shared with Flers. It means that mothers will receive pre-birth care at Vire but will have a choice of where to give birth with the first option Flers, then Saint Lo and in the case of more complicated cases Caen.
Mr Lancry also denied that it was the first step towards closing the hospital at Vire. â€˜The Vire area needs health care provision at a hospital level. But Vire cannot be a mini university hospital,â€™ he claimed, adding that the hospital could apply in the future to have its maternity unit reinstated if a suitable candidate was found.
Supporters of the hospital were disappointed and expressed anger that the health authority spent â‚¬50,000 on the recruitment process but failed to find a suitable candidate.
Others have pointed out that it will be a blow to maternity services across Lower Normandy with women forced to go further to give birth, especially those living on the south west coast of the Cotentin peninsula. The maternity unit at Granville closed a few years ago. Some doctors have warned that the lives of mothers and babies could be put at risk in an emergency.