HOSPITAL chiefs last night moved to reassure pregnant women that the downgrading of their maternity unit does not mean it will close in the future.
Concerns are mounting that mothers-to-be will lose their maternity service as doctor-led care will vanish at North Tyneside General Hospital from tomorrow.
The unit will be run by midwives and consultant-led care will be provided only at Wansbeck General Hospital in Ashington and Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.
The move will mean many pregnant women who suffer complications or wish to have a Caesarean or medical intervention such as an epidural will have to travel farther to give birth.
And there are fears of risk to the lives of the unborn baby and mother in the event of an emergency as they would face a traumatic “blue light” transfer to one of the two consultant-led units.
But medical director for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust David Evans denied the axe would fall on the North Tyneside maternity unit.
He said: “We will continue to run a midwife-led unit here, but the size will depend on people’s choice.
“There are no plans to close the unit. This is the future of the unit. If the choice had been consultant-led care or nothing, then there would have been no future.”
A review of maternity services North of the Tyne looking at how to provide “better services for new mums and their babies” has been going on for four years.
Bosses at the trust, which runs the Wansbeck, North Tyneside and Hexham hospitals, believe the changes will bring about more choice for women.
But consultant obstetrician Dr Evans said “blue light” emergencies where mothers have to be transferred during labour were rare and mums giving birth in a midwife-led unit were classed as low risk.
“Blue light transfers are vanishingly small. The evidence that we have got suggests that for appropriately assessed people having babies in a midwife-led unit is safe. Transfers are all about anticipating problems.”
North Tyneside currently has about 1,600 births a year under doctor-led care, which is expected to drop to 900 – the figure needed to maintain the midwife-led unit at that size – from tomorrow when the service switches.
Should it fail to deliver the 900 babies, another review would be started into the size of the unit. North Tyneside is the fourth midwife-led unit in the region after Hexham, which switched three years ago, and smaller units at Berwick and Alnwick.
But the RVI, a consultant-led regional centre specialising in high and low risk births, has seen a jump of 2,000 births in the past two years as more mothers choose doctor-led care.
Another 700 mothers a year are expected to arrive at the RVI after the North Tyneside switch, which could put a strain on capacity.
North Shields mother Nicola Bowles, 28, chose to give birth to her son Samuel under doctor-led care at the RVI last March rather than nearby North Tyneside.
She said: “I think the North Tyneside unit will eventually have to close.
“My friends who are pregnant or have just given birth have chosen the RVI despite living in this area as they know if there were any problems, they would have to be transferred to the RVI.”
Still some choice
PREGNANT women living in Northumberland and Tyneside who want the reassurance of consultant-led maternity care can still choose to give birth at the Royal Victoria Infirmary.
The Newcastle hospital provides specialist tertiary care to the whole region.
High-risk mothers who need doctor-led care would be referred to the RVI or Wansbeck General in Ashington.
Low-risk mothers-to-be could also choose to give birth at the consultant-led-units, if the units were able to cope.
Those who want midwife-led care can choose from North Tyneside General, Hexham, Berwick and Alnwick.
Medical director for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, David Evans, said: “Within the limits of the physical aspect people can have choice.”