HEALTH chiefs have decided to embark on a period of full public consultation on proposals for the future of midwifery-led care in Berwick, with two options on the table.
NHS North of Tyne, the organisation which commissions healthcare services locally, had been expected to favour one of the two options at its joint board meeting on Tuesday but instead delayed the decision until after a three-month period of public consultation, beginning next month.
Berwick Maternity Unit will remain closed for births and post-natal care until April while Berwick’s midwives continue to refresh their skills by working on rotation at Wansbeck General.
Berwick mum-of-six Kelly Corrigan, who has led the Save Berwick Maternity Unit campaign, said they would continue to press for its full reopening as soon as possible.
She said: “Save Berwick Maternity Unit wants a safe and sustainable service for the Berwick ladies with the doors of BMU re-opening. The problems with the weather and A1 are out of the commissioners’ control but the safety of our ladies is not and they should be mindful of this when making their decisions.”
Dr Mike Guy, medical director of NHS North of Tyne, said: “We recognise how important it is for people in Berwick to have services as close to home as possible, but it is important that the services we commission for them are safe and sustainable.
“A period of public consultation will provide an opportunity for a public discussion about the options included by Northumbria Healthcare in its safety review.
“It’s important that we take all possible steps to make sure that people living in Berwick and the surrounding areas, particularly the women who will be using maternity services in the future, have the opportunity to comment during the consultation.”
Option one would see the resumption of the service that was in place before the suspension at the start of August, with a fully-staffed 24-hour midwife-led unit and in-patient postnatal care.
Option two would see the introduction of a 24/7 on call midwifery-led service for low-risk women to give birth either at home or at the unit. The unit would not be open 24/7 but would be open when an expectant mother calls and says she is in labour. They would then go home within six hours with enhanced community midwifery support.
A report to the board had favoured option two, arguing that option one was not achievable because of the increased resources that would be required to bolster the service at Berwick and there would still be no guarantees of maintaining safety to the levels required. However, members, well aware of the strength of feeling over the issue, decided to look at both options in more detail.
Both options necessitate mandatory rotational training for midwives and also include the provision of full antenatal care to low-risk and high-risk women and postnatal community care. Consultant-led maternity outpatient clinics would continue at Berwick under both options, and women would continue to receive as much of their antenatal care as possible at the hospital and in the community.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which ordered the safety review, welcomed the decision.
Medical director David Evans said: “We are very proud of our strong safety record for maternity care and are fully committed to providing safe, round the clock maternity care for all the communities we serve – we made this very clear when we published our safety review for Berwick.
“We welcome today’s decision to start formal consultation on the two possible future options put forward and will now work closely with NHS North of Tyne to have an open dialogue with people in Berwick and fully involve them in shaping a safe, future maternity service for the town.”
He added: “Although the consultation for Berwick is a positive step forward, we do also appreciate the immediate concerns for those who may be due to deliver in the coming winter months and I would urge Berwick women to talk to their midwives about their birthing options during this interim period.”
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith had met with senior health officials on Monday to stress that Option Two does not meet all the concerns of Berwick mothers and mothers-to-be.
He said: “I have stressed that people in Berwick want the maternity service re-opened and want to have the option of in-patient post-natal care at Berwick, which means keeping a service open around the clock.
“The majority of women who are advised or choose a consultant-led service are using Borders General Hospital and so the commissioners need to work closely with Borders on future plans. I am also pushing for more support for the ambulance services.
“Although better than closure of the unit, option two does not meet all the concerns of Berwick mothers and mothers-to-be and I am continuing to work on this issue.”
The temporary closure of Berwick Maternity Unit for births and postnatal care on August 1 followed two serious safety incidents and concerns over the small number of deliveries, which officials said was making it difficult for Berwick’s midwives to practise and maintain their skills.