Serious incidents ‘compromised safety’ of mothers and babies

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THE head of midwifery at Northumbria Healthcare Trust has admitted that two “very serious” safety incidents triggered the immediate closure of Berwick Maternity Unit for births.

Writing in the Advertiser this week, Janice McNichol says the two incidents “compromised the safety of mothers and babies in our care” and underlines that the purpose of the review now being conducted is to ensure that the trust can meet the “highest possible clinical safety standards”.

When the midwifery-led unit was suddenly closed last month for births and post natal inpatient care, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said the decision was made primarily due to concerns that the rapidly falling birth rate in Berwick could be affecting the ability of midwives to maintain their birthing skills.

However, it has since become clear that it was the safety incidents that prompted such immediate action to be taken. The trust has refused to disclose any details about the two incidents in order to shield its staff and protect patient confidentiality.

However, Ms McNicol reveals in the Advertiser: “Unfortunately at Berwick, the low numbers of births and the lack of opportunity for our midwives to practise resulted in two very serious safety incidents which compromised the safety of mothers and babies in our care.

“As an organisation, we pride ourselves on providing some of the safest maternity services in England which is why we had to put an immediate halt on births and postnatal inpatient care at Berwick pending a review. I really do hope people can appreciate that we simply cannot take any risks where safety is concerned.

“Our priority now as we progress the review, is to understand what maternity care women would like to see in the future and how we might be able to safely deliver future care to meet these highest possible clinical safety standards.”

When Dave Evans, the trust medical director, said Berwick mums were “choosing” to give birth elsewhere, the group campaigning for the unit to be saved argued that mums were, in fact, given no choice but to go elsewhere because of the way risks were assessed.

However, Ms McNicol explains: “Our understanding of what can go wrong and, in particular, our ability to screen for and anticipate problems, has changed the nature of how we look after women during both pregnancy and labour.”

The issue was raised in the House of Commons by Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith this week.

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, Dan Poulter, told MPs the decision to suspend services in Berwick had been a “difficult one for the local trust”. He said he would take a close interest in the outcome of its review.