Dismay at repeated closures of Shropshire's rural maternity units
Health campaigners today expressed their dismay at the repeated temporary overnight closures of Shropshire’s rural maternity units.
The three rural midwife-led units (MLUs) in Bridgnorth, Oswestry and Ludlow reopened to births on New Year’s Day after a suspension due to staffing issues last year.
But there have been a series of temporary overnight closures since then that Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust – which runs the MLUs – has blamed on staff sickness.
And on Friday the trust announced the unit in Oswestry would be closed until February 25 after saying expectant mothers were not choosing to use the facility.
But Liz Grayston, one of those leading the campaign to keep the unit open, said she knew several mothers who are now feeling let down.
She said: "The biggest concern I have is that the trust is using anxiety over uncertainty as their main reason for closure.
"What it is actually doing is quashing choice. Women aren't choosing consultant care they're being advised to have it, and who goes against medical advice?
"Most women are disappointed not to be able to use the more relaxed environment at the unit.
"There are no inpatient beds at Shrewsbury either and Wrexham is 'shut down' to visitors because of infection.
"National Nice guidelines state better postnatal care improved breastfeeding rates and reduces postnatal depression.
"The report by ELC showed the units provided exceptional postnatal care. So why get rid of them?
"Oswestry mums have no way of accessing the postnatal care that they have been told is part of the service offering in Shropshire and Telford."
SaTH said the rural maternity units were able to reopen to births at the start of the year because of a successful recruitment drive and the introduction of new working practices.
But their future remains uncertain as health chiefs have proposed a shake-up that could see women no longer being able to give birth at the three rural MLUs.
The proposals, which followed a review by Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin clinical commissioning groups, are due to go out to public consultation.
Since the start of the year, disruption has included:
- Services at Oswestry MLU were suspended on January 7, 26, 28, 30, February 7 and 8. On Friday it was announced services there would now be suspended until February 25. The unit will remain open between 8am and 8pm for antenatal and postnatal services, but will not be able to accept inpatients
- Bridgnorth MLU closed overnight on February 6
- Services at Ludlow MLU suspended overnight on January 26
Health campaigners have accused SaTH of deliberately trying to run down the rural services – a claim which has been denied by the trust, which said they were responding to 'safety' issues due to staff sickness.
Bridgnorth town councillor Dr Julia Buckley claimed women were being put in a ‘dangerous’ situation.
Hospital bosses say there are still only a small number of mothers opting to give birth at the rural MLUs, but Dr Buckley said it was not seen as an appealing option to many women because of the unexpected and repeated overnight closures.
She said: “It’s extremely dangerous for a woman not to know where she can give birth. They are closing down the rural units and forcing women to travel to a hospital which is already saturated. They are deliberately running down the service.
"They have recruited newly qualified midwives who cannot operate at a rural maternity unit on their own.
"It all comes down to money, but investing in the NHS now will save money in the future.”
Gill George, from Shropshire Defend Our NHS, echoed Dr Buckley’s concerns.
She also said it would be dangerous if the rural MLUs closed to births altogether, adding: “It’s time for people power and to assert that these are our maternity services and they are vital for the future.”
The proposed shake-up of maternity services is expected to be discussed by Shropshire clinical commissioning group on Wednesday. A report to the CCG says: “As previously reported, staffing arrangements for these three units remains a significant concern to both the trust and CCGs.
“At present staff are undertaking additional hours to provide cover for all the shifts and the trust has provided assurance to the CCGs the MLUs are safe.”
Under the new proposals, women will no longer be able to give birth at rural MLUs.
Instead they can attend the consultant-led and midwife-led units at PRH in Telford, a midwife-led unit at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital or have a home birth.
The new policy states that a community team will be available 24/7 for midwife led births in the midwife-led units and at home.
A series of maternity hubs would also be created to support women before and after birth.
The public are due to be allowed a have their say in a public consultation.