Berwick maternity unit closure blamed for baby's birth in ambulance

A BABY boy had to be delivered in the back of an ambulance after the controversial closure of a Northumberland maternity unit.

Louise McCulloch, from Tweedmouth with her son Marty, who was born in the back of an ambulance
Louise McCulloch, from Tweedmouth with her son Marty, who was born in the back of an ambulance

A BABY boy had to be delivered in the back of an ambulance after the controversial closure of a Northumberland maternity unit.

Marty James McCulloch was delivered in the vehicle as it pulled up in the car park of Alnwick Infirmary after mother Louise’s booking to have him at her local unit at Berwick was cancelled due to its closure.

Mrs McCulloch last night told The Journal how she is already looking forward to telling Marty about his memorable Halloween arrival in the world.

But both she and her aunt, a former midwife at Berwick who was in the ambulance with her, said what had happened to them proved the need for the town’s baby unit.

Mrs McCulloch, a 31-year-old kitchen assistant at Prior Park First School in Tweedmouth, was delighted when she and husband Ryan, also 31 and a greenkeeper at Goswick Golf Club, learned they were to have a third child earlier this year.

The couple, who already have sons Leo, seven, and Spencer, five, booked in April to give birth at the unit at Berwick Infirmary, but Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust announced at the end of July that the unit was to close temporarily from August 1. The trust cited a lack of births and safety incidents for the closure and argued that midwifes were not getting the opportunities to practise their birthing skills.

Mrs McCulloch booked to give birth at the Hillcrest Maternity Unit at Alnwick Infirmary but then arranged to instead be induced at Wansbeck General Hospital at Ashington as, having had two quick births, she feared she would not make it to Alnwick once her waters broke.

She had been booked in for November 1, but at around 11pm on October 30 she felt the baby was on its way.

The couple decided to drive to Wansbeck but phoned Mrs McCulloch’s aunt Evelyn Mavin, who had worked as a midwife at Berwick for 37 years, for advice. She urged them to call an ambulance and Mrs McCulloch and her aunt were rushed off with Mr McCulloch following behind.

But by the time the ambulance had reached Denwick, just North of Alnwick, the baby’s head was visible and the ambulance diverted to Alnwick.

A midwife from the unit raced to the ambulance, but there was not even time to bring Mrs McCulloch inside and Marty was delivered by the midwife in the ambulance at 12.46am on October 31, weighing in at 9lb and 13oz.

Mrs McCulloch and her healthy new arrival were moved into Hillcrest where they stayed until returning home on Friday.

But she said that the axing of the Berwick unit could see other mothers giving birth in ambulances or even A1 en route to other hospitals.

She said: “If my auntie had not been there, I dread to think what would have happened. Goodness knows where we would have been if we had gone in the car.

“I am the first, but I probably will not be the last. It was always in the back of my mind, I used to say ‘I will have the baby in the ambulance’.”

Mrs Mavin, who lives at Osborne Crescent, added: “I think they just take everything away from Berwick. They talk about incidents, but there are incidents everywhere. It does not mean to say everywhere has to close.”

The axing of the unit has sparked an angry response. Thousands of people have signed up to a Facebook group and petitions and attended a rally, while town MP Sir Alan Beith has raised the issue in parliament.

Last week it emerged two pregnant mothers were launching legal action in a bid to have the site reopened.

Independent research has been carried out into the future of maternity services in Berwick and the results are to feed into a review being carried out by the healthcare trust, findings of which are expected to be published in the near future.

Janice McNichol, head of midwifery at the organisation, said: “This woman was one of only two women who were booked to give birth at Berwick Maternity Unit when births and postnatal inpatient care were temporarily suspended from August 1. This followed two serious incidents which highlighted significant safety issues as a result of the low number of births at the unit, only 13 in 2011/12. Labours of this short duration are extremely rare. Midwives from the Alnwick unit attended the birth.”


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