HEALTH bosses are today recommending a change to maternity services in a border town after deeming the currently suspended provision is not achievable.
Bosses at NHS North of Tyne are advising its board to back the creation of a 24/7 on-call system for delivery of care during labour for women in Berwick.
They make that recommendation after backing the view of management at the town’s currently closed maternity unit that reopening it as before would not be achievable.
However, ahead of the meeting, the town’s MP has warned them that the on-call system does not meet all the concerns of Berwick mothers.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust announced the temporary closure of the unit at Berwick Infirmary from August 1, 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 launched a review of service provision.
The move sparked anger among Berwick residents, with thousands signing petitions, forming Facebook and action groups, and attending a rally.
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith raised concerns in Parliament and two expectant mothers announced they were planning legal action to have the unit reopened.
Recently, the healthcare trust announced the results of its review, with two options put forward for the future of maternity services in the town.
They were the reinstatement of the unit as before with additional midwifes to allow rotation, or the on-call system whereby care could be given either at home or in a maternity birthing room in Berwick.
In-patient post-natal care would be provided for up to six hours, after which women would be supported in their own homes by an enhanced post-natal community midwifery service.
The options were reported to the health commissioners, whose board is to discuss them today.
A report to the meeting says that the on-call system is considered by both the trust and commissioners to be the most viable.
It adds that reinstating services as they were is not considered to be achievable because of the increased resources that would be required to bolster the service at Berwick.
Furthermore “there would still be no guarantees of maintaining safety to the levels required.” The on-call system could, it says provide a safe and sustainable service as well as an enhanced community midwifery service.
The board is being recommended to authorise a formal consultation period in Berwick starting next month.
Sir Alan met representatives of the commissioners and the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group yesterday, ahead of the meeting.
He said last night: “I have stressed that people in Berwick want the maternity service reopened and want to have the option of in-patient post-natal care at Berwick, which means keeping a service open around the clock.
“The majority of women who are advised or choose a consultant-led service are using Borders General Hospital and so the commissioners need to work closely with Borders on future plans.
“Although better than closure of the unit, option two (the on-call system) does not meet all the concerns of Berwick mothers and mothers-to-be and I am continuing to work on this issue.”