Midwives unable to maintain their skills, says Northumbria Healthcare Trust

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BERWICK Maternity Unit has closed following a drastic decline in the number of babies born there which has caused concerns about the ability of midwives to maintain their birthing skills.

The decision leaves mums-to-be facing an hour long drive to their nearest maternity hospital at Wansbeck or Borders General and means mums who give birth elsewhere will not be able to recuperate at Berwick afterwards.

The closure, which has been made on a temporary basis while the situation is reviewed, was announced to shocked staff on Tuesday afternoon and came into effect yesterday.

Two expectant mothers who were due to have their baby at Berwick Infirmary over the next few weeks were advised to talk to their midwife to discuss an alternative birthing plan.

During the closure period, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has said babies will not be delivered in the hospital or the community area covered by the midwives working out of Berwick Infirmary.

Whilst all antenatal and postnatal maternity services will be maintained at Berwick Infirmary, as well as consultant led high risk clinics, the drastic decline in births over the past year, from 23 births in 2010/11 to only 13 births over the past 12 months has caused concern that midwives will be unable to maintain essential birthing skills.

Dave Evans, trust medical director said: “We pride ourselves on providing some of the best quality maternity services in England and that is testament to the hard work and commitment of all our midwives. The continuing decline in births at Berwick however, has meant we’ve had to take this difficult decision.

“With such a low volume of births, our midwives are simply not getting enough opportunities to regularly practice their essential birthing skills which are paramount in being able to deliver high quality, safe and effective midwifery care.”

However, the news has shocked and disappointed many people who are now left wondering whether there will be any maternity provision in the new hospital planned for Berwick by 2015.

Anna Williams, who gave birth to her son, Alfie, at the maternity unit in May, said: “I’m shocked and saddened by the news. If I was pregnant now and planning to give birth there I would be horrified at this decision.

“The care I received at the unit was brilliant and the after-care I got, with my family being able to easily pop in, enabled me to come away feeling a lot better than if I’d been stuck in a large hospital somewhere. I certainly don’t think it can be a good long-term sustainable plan to have heavily pregnant women travelling an hour to get to hospital.”

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a healthcare trust public governor for Berwick, added: “The key now is to make sure the wraparound care for maternity services is absolutely spot on in the new hospital.

“I understand the clinical issues that have led to this decision but it’s imperative there is somewhere in Berwick where new mums can go with their babies when they come back from Wansbeck or wherever.”

The trust is now looking into the long term future of the midwifery-led unit in Berwick working together with its commissioners and has pledged to engage with the public and partners to reach a solution.

Mr Evans said: “I wholeheartedly appreciate this will be disappointing for those families who had planned to give birth in Berwick in the near future and for those who have experienced excellent care in the past, but the reduced volume in births has given us a real cause for concern which we must act upon.”

Midwives will continue to support expectant mums in Berwick, working closely with affected families to make alternative birthing arrangements where necessary.

No midwives will lose their jobs as a result of the closure and work is now taking place to agree how the midwives can best maintain their skills and also what a safe and sustainable midwifery service in Berwick will look like in the future.

Mike Guy, medical director at NHS North of Tyne said: “As commissioners of healthcare, safety is of paramount importance. It’s vital that we are assured that whatever services we commission for local people meet the highest possible standards in relation to safety and quality. As such we support the interim closure of the unit at Berwick.

“Clearly the figures show us that women haven’t been using the service at Berwick and had their babies at other local hospitals. What we need to do now is to have discussions with local women and their families to understand better about the maternity service they will be looking for in the future.”

Discussions are now taking place between Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and NHS North of Tyne to agree next steps and further announcements will be made in due course.