'Lifeline' Plymouth maternity acupuncture service stays shut
A "LIFELINE" maternity service at Derriford Hospital will remain closed – in spite of the pleas of mothers who have benefited from it.
Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust has closed its Maternity Acupuncture Service, which was set up 24 years ago.
The trust told city councillors yesterday that it could no longer afford to pay for the service after funding was withdrawn.
But members of the city council health scrutiny panel yesterday promised mums-to-be that they would push for the service to be provided in the community through local surgeries.
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Kerry Dungay, a mother-of-two from Manadon, described the service as a lifeline.
She said she had acupuncture after suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a severe form of morning sickness.
"At four months pregnant I weighed six and a half stone and the medication I had been prescribed had stopped working," she said.
She told the panel that before she was sent for acupuncture she had considered terminating the pregnancy because the suffering was so severe.
"The clinic allowed me to continue with my pregnancy."
Sue Stock, head of midwifery and associate director of nursing at Derriford Hospital, told the panel that NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, had asked for evidence that acupuncture worked.
She said they had been unable to provide acceptable clinical studies to prove the case and funding had been withdrawn.
Women getting acupuncture made up less than one per cent of the maternity unit's patients, she said.
The trust had to spend £180 on each visit to an acupuncturist.
Dr Adrian White, an acupuncture researcher and practitioner, told the panel he was convinced the effect was real and not just in the mind.
Nick Pahl, chief executive of the British Acupuncture Council, said the treatment was now part of mainstream medicine.
He said it was accepted as being effective for general back pain and migraine even though NICE did not accept that it worked for those conditions in pregnancy.
The panel heard that about 8,000 women had been referred for acupuncture over the 24 years of the service.
There were 1,400 signatures on a petition opposing its closure.
Cllr Ian Gordon (Lab, Ham), a panel member, said he had used acupuncture and believed that it worked.
Cllr David James (Con, Plympton St Mary) asked whether the trust was denying patients' choice.
But Ms Stock said they would "signpost" women to alternative treatments if required.
She said the trust had always had to deny provision of some treatments, including aromatherapy and reflexology.
Cllr Jon Taylor (Lab, Budshead) said: "I hate the thought of people on low income being unable to afford this service, but as far as I can see there is no evidence for it and I can't support it."
The panel agreed to press the new Devon Clinical Commissioning Group to provide maternity acupuncture in the community.
Afterwards Eloise Peden, a disabled mother whose severe pain had been relieved by acupuncture, said: "How terrible it is to throw away this wonderful service."
But she welcomed the panel's pledge to push for provision through the primary care system.