A CAMPAIGN has been launched to save Berwick Maternity Unit following the announcement this week that it is being closed temporarily.
Critics say the decision made by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to close the midwifery-led unit while a review is carried out threatens to leave expectant mothers in the Berwick area with an unacceptable level of service.
They believe too many women are already being forced to travel either 50 miles to Wansbeck or 40 miles to Borders General Hospital in Melrose to give birth because of a lack of adequate facilities and expertise in Berwick.
This week’s decision means those who were willing and able to give birth in Berwick will also be forced to make a long trip elsewhere.
The two expectant mothers who were due to have their babies at Berwick Infirmary are being advised to talk to their midwives to discuss an alternative birthing plan.
During what is described as a “temporary” closure, 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 in 2011/12 has caused concern that midwives will be unable to maintain essential birthing skills.
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith said: “I held an urgent discussion with Northumbria Healthcare Trust chief executive Jim Mackey on Monday. I’m very unhappy to see the service suspended. But if the clinicians insist that this needs to be done to protect the safety of mothers and babies in the short term then it must be supported.
“However, I’ve insisted that full consultation is carried out with the staff, the local community and mothers who would be affected if longer term changes are recommended as an outcome of the review.”
The announcement of the temporary closure was widely criticised within hours of it being made. As the Advertiser went to press, more than 40 signatures had already been added to a petition calling for the Berwick Maternity Unit to be saved.
Kelly Corrigan, a mum of six from Berwick, is coordinating the delivery of petitions to households throughout north Northumberland and across the border, and already has teams in place in Bamburgh, Seahouses, Wooler, Paxton, Norham, Eyemouth and Berwick.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the response and the help I’ve received,” she said. “There is a lot of anger out there about this decision. Quiet simply, Berwick Maternity Unit is a home from home. The level of support and care mothers receive from the midwives there is second to none. We don’t want to lose it.”
Commenting on the Advertiser’s facebook page, local mum Louise Gibson said: “God help any expectant mums that go into labour as how many ambulances do we have? I had to rely on the red cross getting me to Wansbeck as the other ambulances were busy. My daughter had to be born by section and only just survived all because of the time it took to get me to Wansbeck.”
Diane Robertson added: “This is disgraceful! How many more services are we going to loose? We need local services in a local hospital, not 100 odd miles away. Staff at maternity unit in Berwick want to do the job but there is no support for them from those up above.”
Less that 24 hours’ notice was given by Northumbria Healtcare Trust before the unit was closed down. The decision was announced to staff and the media on Tuesday afternoon, and the unit was closed the next day.
Northumbria Healthcare Trust medical director Dave Evans says the decision is based on a big fall in the number of babies being born in Berwick and concern that the midwives are unable to maintain their essential skills as a consequence.
Critics, however, point out that the closure is a self-fulfilling prophecy. They say the rapid decline in the birth rate is not because mothers are choosing to have their babies elsewhere, but because the Berwick unit is not adequately resourced to accept them. Most expectant mums are told to go somewhere else to deliver in order to minimise the risks.
Dave Evans, medical director at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust 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.
“We are now looking into the long term future of the midwifery-led unit in Berwick working together with our commissioners and will of course engage with the public as we work with partners to reach a solution.”
He added: “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.”