NHS delivers maternity unit verdict

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CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save Berwick Maternity Unit are celebrating after it was revealed that 24-hour midwifery-led care will be reinstated in the town.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said today that it has presented commissioners NHS North of Tyne with two options for the continuation of maternity services in Berwick - both of which include catering for births in the town.

But Berwick Maternity Unit will remain closed for births and inpatient care until at least April 2013.

Following the sudden closure of the unit for births and inpatient care on August 1, and a three-month review into maternity services which was completed last week, the trust has now outlined two possible future options on how midwifery-led maternity services can be provided to expectant mothers in Berwick, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Option one is to continue with the pre suspension service in Berwick, and would require the recruitment of additional midwives in order for the trust to facilitate regular rotation of midwives “to maintain safety standards”.

The second option draws on similar models used in other rural areas across the country, and would operate a 24/7 on-call system for care during labour, which would either be delivered at the home of the expectant mother, or using a maternity birthing room in Berwick. Inpatient postnatal care would be provided for up to six hours following birth, after which the trust say women would be supported in their own homes by an enhanced postnatal community midwifery service.

Both options will alleviate fears in the town that Berwick is set to lose its maternity unit altogether. However, the trust says that reinstating the suspended services will only be considered once all Berwick midwives have completed their current rotations at Wansbeck next April.

Kelly Corrigan, the mum of six who has been leading the campaign to save the unit, is delighted with the outcome, but says she won’t stop fighting.

“This is a huge boost to morale for all those who have supported the campaign, and for Berwick’s midwives,” she said.

“Lots of people have played their part to make sure our voice has been heard and I’d like to thank everyone for their support.

“About half of the questions I put to the trust were answered in the report published today, so I’m really pleased that the research I put in was worthwhile and recognised.

“However, no final decision has been made yet and the winter is now upon us. We would like to see provisions put in place to cover the winter months and we won’t stop fighting until the doors of Berwick Maternity Unit are open 24-7.”

Staff at the unit were given less than 24-hours notice that the unit was set to close for births and inpatient care on August 1.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust insists it took the sudden decision to temporarily suspend services at the BMU because of two serious safety incidents, which it said had arisen from a falling birth rate at the unit.

Janice McNichol, the trust’s head of midwifery, said: “From the outset we have been very clear that this temporary suspension has been about safety and safety alone.

“We could not ignore the safety issues that arose in Berwick and took immediate steps in the interests of patient safety and to allow our midwives to get more regular practice and exposure to a wide variety and volume of clinical scenarios which is absolutely critical for any safe maternity service in Berwick for the future.”

She added that there are no other rural parts of England with such a low number of births as Berwick, and said this was also something which the trust could not ignore.

“These low birth numbers are not just a result of changing national guidance, which we must adhere to, but also the choices Berwick women are making about their maternity care – the majority of low risk women who could have chosen Berwick to deliver their baby, chose a consultant-led unit instead,” she said.

“As a Trust, we are fully committed to providing a safe, round the clock, maternity service for the people of Berwick and hope this is clear from the two options for a future safe service which we have put forward to our commissioners NHS North of Tyne for consideration. I would also like to thank our team of midwives in Berwick for their cooperation and ongoing professionalism during this difficult time.”


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