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Future of north east Essex maternity units to be decided

Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust has outlined plans to reconfigure services at two coastal maternity units that it temporarily closed earlier this year.

The midwife-led units in Clacton and Harwich were closed by the trust in March over concerns about low levels of midwife staffing at Colchester General Hospital.

They were re-opened this month, but only as “on demand” birthing units – a move that sparked criticism from residents and MPs when it was announced in June.

The trust’s board has approved two options for appraisal – either to maintain the current level of service or return to the service previously offered at the units, but with antenatal and postnatal care continuing at both sites:

  • Option 1 – Clacton and Harwich to remain as “on-demand” birthing centres
  • Option 2 – Clacton and Harwich to revoke back to the status of midwife-led units open 24/7

The two options will be appraised across a range of factors, including safety and efficiency.

However, the language used in the trust’s document suggest that it favours maintain the status quo.

It states that sustaining the units as an on demand service for births will “release midwifery resource into the community and facilitate a more consistent model of care and equitable distribution of resources”.

In contrast, it notes that reverting to 24/7 would be an “inefficient use of midwifery resources”, adding that in the past there had been a “significant number of occasions when the coastal birthing units have been empty but still fully staffed”.

Consultation over the plans is expected to begin next month, pending approval from the North Essex Clinical Commissioning Group and Essex County Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee.  

A CCG spokeswoman said: “Maternity services have been subject for review for years.

“We’re really keen on all sides to get a resolution to this so that there’s stability for everybody,” she said.

 

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