Campaigners urge the public to complete BMU survey

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SAVE Berwick Maternity Unit campaign group is urging members of the public to register their views about the future options for midwifery-led services in the town ahead of next week’s public meeting.

The first public meeting to discuss the two options proposed by Northumbria NHS Foundation Trust, following the temporary closure of Berwick Maternity Unit for safety reasons last august, takes place on Wednesday.

Residents are being asked their views of both option one - to reopen the unit exactly as it was before (which would require recruiting more midwives); and option two - to provide a 24/7 ‘on call’ midwifery-led service which would mean low risk women could give birth in Berwick, either in a birthing room or at home. The unit would only provide inpatient care for mum and baby for six hours after the birth.

Campaign group spokesperson Isabel Hunter said: “Please can everybody complete the survey. So far the number of returns are very low. I have asked if we can have hard copies for people who do not have access to the internet and this has been granted so if you do not have the internet please phone and ask for a hard copy.”

As the issue of future maternity services locally is coming to a head in Berwick, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) warned this week that a “massive increase” in birth rates in England was putting a strain on the NHS, with provisional numbers from the Office for National Statistics suggesting 2012 could be record-breaking year for births.

The RCM said that hospital services were struggling to keep up, and Jon Skewes, a RCM director, said that some maternity units had been forced to close temporarily for safety reasons because demand had outstripped staffing.

Responding, the government said it had been investing in maternity care. Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said: “We have taken quick action and there are now over 800 more midwives in the NHS since 2010.”

In Berwick, figures this week show that more than a hundred online surveys about the future of the town’s maternity unit have now been completed; a big increase from the previous week.

Rachel Chapman, director of public engagement and communications at NHS North of Tyne, said: “We would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to complete online surveys or to share their comments with us.

“It had been mentioned to us that some people were finding the survey difficult to access so we made some adjustments to the link on our website. The actual link to the survey is now on our front page, so people can go straight to it. Previously they had to click on a link about the consultation and then go to the survey.” She added: “We recognise that not everyone will wish to complete an online survey, so we listed the other ways that they could comment in the consultation document and on a flyer that is being distributed to more than 13,000 households.”