TWO options have been put forward for the future of maternity services in a Northumberland town following the temporary closure of its baby unit.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Berwick Infirmary, yesterday released the results of a review it has carried out since the maternity unit was temporarily closed at the beginning of August.
It is suggesting either the reinstatement of the unit as before, or a 24/7 on-call system for care during labour either at home or in a maternity birthing room in Berwick.
The findings drew a mixed response yesterday with the town MP saying they did not “adequately deal with the concerns and reasonable expectations” of mothers. But a campaign group welcomed its findings, particularly a commitment on home births.
The trust announced the closure of the unit in July, citing a fall in the number of births to 13 in 2011/12, as well as safety incidents.
It said midwives were not getting opportunities to practise birthing skills and began sending them to Wansbeck General Hospital’s busier unit on a rota basis for more practice, while launching the review of service provision.
The move sparked anger among Berwick residents, with thousands signing petitions, joining a Facebook group, forming an action group and attending a rally, and MP Sir Alan Beith raising concerns in parliament. Last week, two expectant mothers announced they were planning legal action to have the unit reopened. And yesterday The Journal reported on Berwick mother Louise McCulloch giving birth in the back of an ambulance on the way to Wansbeck.
The review reveals that the unit dealt with the smallest number of births of any comparable facility in England last year, with the nearest, at Penrith, delivering 30 babies. It showed that 48% of pregnant Berwick women were not eligible to give birth at the midwifery-led unit last year because they were classed as high risk under national guidance.
Of the 52% deemed low risk, more than half (85 women) chose to give birth at a consultant-led unit instead. Only a third of low-risk women (49) chose Berwick to deliver their babies last year with just the 13 delivered in the unit.