Beith welcomes health minister’s support over maternity unit

Berwick Maternity Unit
Berwick Maternity Unit

BERWICK MP Sir Alan Beith has welcomed the new health minister’s support after raising the plight of Berwick Maternity Unit in the House of Commons.

Sir Alan said that with a new hospital planned for Berwick, suspicions were growing that it would not include maternity services. The minister for public health, Daniel Poulter, told MPs the decision to suspend services in Berwick had been a “difficult one for the local trust” and emphaised that it was made to “protect the quality of care and safety of women in labour.”

Sir Alan Beith spoke at the rally held in protest against the temporary closure of Berwick Maternity Unit

Sir Alan Beith spoke at the rally held in protest against the temporary closure of Berwick Maternity Unit

He said he would take a close interest in the outcome of its review.

Sir Alan described the situation following the suspension of deliveries at Berwick Maternity Unit, which has left mums-to-be with no option but to travel many miles to Borders General Hospital in Melrose, or the Wansbeck General Hospital in Ashington, when they go in to labour.

Sir Alan said: “At last week’s Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister set out that changes in clinical services should not be made without these four conditions being satisfied: support from GP commissioners, strengthened public and patient engagement, clarity on the clinical evidence base and support for patient choice.

“Those conditions are not satisfied in what is happening in my constituency, and they certainly would not be satisfied by a total withdrawal of maternity services, including delivery, at Berwick.

“I seek the Minister’s assurance that those conditions remain relevant and that the attention of the health care and primary care trusts involved in taking decisions about maternity services in my area will be drawn to their significance.

“I hope that the minister and department will assist the trusts in any way that they can to work up a good scheme to ensure that people in my constituency can have confidence in their future maternity services at Berwick.”

The new Minister at the Department for Health who responded to Sir Alan is Dr Daniel Poulter MP, who previously worked as an NHS hospital doctor specialising primarily in obstetrics, gynaecology and women’s health. Sir Alan also said that he hoped it will prove helpful that the Minister replying to the debate is a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology.

TMr Poulter replied: “My right honourable friend was right to point out that the challenges for maternity services—indeed, for all health care services—in more rural areas such as Berwick-upon-Tweed are different from those in more urban parts of the country, such as London. Women and families in Berwick, like women and families everywhere, deserve maternity services that focus on improving the delivering of high-quality health care for women and babies, and on improving women’s experience of care.

“The decision temporarily to close the midwifery-led maternity unit and in-patient post-natal services at the Berwick Infirmary, to which my right honourable friend alluded, was difficult for the local trust to make. He is right to say that in making such decisions, there should be regard to the rurality of the area. He made good suggestions about the potential for rotating staff to support rural maternity units. I understand that the decision was made to protect the quality and safety of maternity services in the area and, in particular, to protect the quality of care and safety of women in labour.

“I have been assured that the trust is working closely with commissioners to look at the future of maternity services in Berwick. The review will be completed in the coming months. My right honourable may be aware of the recent birthplace study, which discusses good and bad practice in supporting smaller maternity units. I am sure that the commissioners will have regard to that study in making decisions about the future of the unit in his area. He should be assured that I will take a close interest in the matter and support his advocacy on behalf of his constituents.”

Speaking after the debate Sir Alan said: “The minister made it clear that he will take a continuing interest in the situation in Berwick and I welcome his support.”