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Decline in births forces temporary closure at Berwick

Thursday, 03 July, 2014
Decline in births forces temporary closure at Berwick

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has today announced the temporary closure of the midwifery-led maternity unit at Berwick Infirmary following a drastic decline in births. 

The temporary closure will come into immediate effect from 1 August 2012 and the two expectant mothers who were due to have their baby at Berwick Infirmary will be advised to talk to their midwife to discuss an alternative birthing plan.  During the 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 – an average of just one birth per month – has caused concern that midwives will be unable to maintain essential birthing skills.

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.

“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.”

Whilst the small number of births will now need to happen elsewhere during the closure, all antenatal and postnatal care and consultant-led high risk clinics will continue to be delivered in Berwick.  Midwives will continue to support expectant mums in Berwick, working closely with affected families to make alternative birthing arrangements where necessary. 

The decision to temporarily close the unit has been made together with commissioners of health services in Northumberland, NHS North of Tyne.  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.”

Kath Mannion, Local Supervising Authority Midwifery Officer for the north east of England said:

“In the current circumstances the temporary closure of the midwifery led unit at Berwick Infirmary is the only way that we can be assured that midwifery services remain at the highest possible quality.

“Despite having some of the most highly trained midwives in the region, sadly as less and less women choose to give birth in the midwifery led unit at Berwick it makes it hard for the local NHS to sustain a safe and effective service and this must now be looked at as a matter of priority.”

Recent research published by the NHS Confederation shows the average occupancy rate of standalone midwifery led units in England is 30 per cent.  In Berwick this figure is less than 0.3 per cent and births have fallen by over 60 percent in the past four years.

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