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Don't believe all you read

From Dr John Havard, Saxmundham, Suffolk

Patricia Hewitt recently launched Maternity Matters offering pregnant women childbirth choices.

Offering choice must be a vote-winner but the public need to be mindful of just how much more expensive and ineffective her recent choices of NHS Direct (£27 per patient phone-call) and walk-in centres (£24 per patient) are compared with primary care (£20 per patient). She talks liberally about the high quality of community midwifery and yet presides over their demoralisation in pay and job cuts. She had better hurry up and train more midwives because the current workforce is leaving in droves. I have been taken in by a series of good sense NHS documents starting with the NHS Plan in 2000. Our own Suffolk Health and Social Care project included a cost-saving midwife-led birthing unit but the one-stop shop was refused even if, through grant and subsidy, it cost the PCT nothing. Reasons vary from 'being too good for Suffolk' to 'raising public expectations' to the latest one of 'being too busy'! The fact that a minister of health wrote 'I hope this project can be progressed as soon as possible', confirms the paralysis that Shifting the Balance of Power has created. There is no point having illustrious generals in Whitehall and good officers in SHAs if the PCTs are run by mercenaries, since lip service is the only valid currency on the front line.

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