Berwick maternity unit to reduce its hours after consultation

A decision has been made on the future of maternity services at a unit in Northumberland

MP Alan Beith at The Save Berwick Maternity Unit rally
MP Alan Beith at The Save Berwick Maternity Unit rally

A decision  has been made on the future of maternity services at a unit in Northumberland.

Health commissioners have been consulting over how maternity services are delivered at Berwick Infirmary following a number of safety incidents and a fall in the amount of births.

Yesterday Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) decided to introduce a 24/7 on-call system to allow low-risk women to give birth in Berwick, either in a birthing room or at home, with in-patient post-natal care.

Under the plans the midwifery-led unit will be open Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm, and on Saturday and Sunday, 9am until 2.30pm. There will be the continuation of drop-in clinics for breastfeeding mothers and opportunities for pregnant women to contact the unit and speak to midwives.

But the move has been met with anger among campaigners who were adamant that maternity services should remain fully operational at all times at Berwick. A petition formed by the Save Berwick Maternity Unit group had previously collected around 5,000 signatures in support of the option to keep services as they have been.

Mother-of-seven Kelly Corrigan, 34, of Berwick, said: I do not see how it is a good option for women from Berwick to have a 130 mile round trip to travel to a consultant-led unit.”

Births at Berwick Infirmary were stopped by bosses at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust at the beginning of August last year. The trust cited a fall in number of births, to just 13 in 2011/12, and said midwives were not getting the opportunities they needed to practise birthing skills.

Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith said: “This is a disappointing decision that has been too much influenced by urban doctors' practices who do not understand what life is like with the nearest alternative maternity units 50 miles away.”

Dr Alistair Blair, chief clinical officer of NHS Northumberland CCG, said: “We know how important this issue has been locally and I would like to reassure people that we have given it a great deal of thought and consideration. We will be working very closely with the trust to monitor the delivery of the new service in the coming months.”

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said it welcomed the decision to provide a safe and sustainable service for women.

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