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Closed Essex maternity units may re-open 'on demand'

An Essex trust looks set to re-open two temporarily closed two maternity units, but only as “on demand” birthing units.

Colchester Hospital University Foundation Trust’s board will need to ratify the decision at a meeting on 12 June before it is given the green light.

The move was recommended in a report for the trust’s board written by Amanda Hallums, its divisional director for women’s and children’s services, who said the option to re-open the units as on demand birth centres was supported by a risk assessment.

A trust spokesman told Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal that if the new arrangements were rubber stamped women who go into labour will ring a hotline number.

“During the day, this will be picked up by midwives located at the two units,” he said.

“But at night – when there will be no midwives at Clacton and/or Harwich – calls will be picked up by the Juno Suite, the midwife-led at Colchester General Hospital, who will then alert an on-call midwife,” he said.

The initial closure of the two coastal units at Harwich and Clacton in March was met with substantial opposition from residents and local MPs. Both were 24/7 midwife-led units.

The trust carried out a review of maternity services because the midwife to birth ratio at Colchester General Hospital was considerably higher than the Department of Health guidelines which propose a 1:29 ration. The hospital has an average of 70 births a week and a midwife to birth of 1:39.

The ratios in Clacton (1:18) and Harwich are (1:14) much lower and there are only five births across both sites in an average week, according to the trust.

But local campaigners have criticised the decision. Jenny Semple, who is leading a campaign against the changes, said: “We want them to open it 24/7. If it reopens as a birthing centre there will be no aftercare for women who are giving birth there.”

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