Sir George said he was very sad to hear of plans to suspend some of the services at the Birth Centre at Andover Hospital for up to four months- see letter below.
"Only a few weeks ago, there was a very successful Open day, which Aurelia and I went to. We met some happy parents and babies, who were delighted with the service they received. Since then, I have been encouraging mums-to-be to use the Birth Centre. The news of staff shortages leading to temporary suspension is very disappointing; I hope that steps can be taken urgently to find new midwives, so the Birth centre can re-open long before March. It may be that there are some recently retired mid-wives in the town who might help out in the short term."
24 November 2009
STATEMENT ABOUT THE PROPOSED TEMPORARY SUSPENSION OF INPATIENT (BIRTHING) SERVICE AT ANDOVER BIRTH CENTRE
During the past four weeks the Andover Birth Centre has had to close its birthing service at short notice on three separate occasions due to the unavailability of qualified staff. Closing in this way or providing the inpatient service without the right staff presents a risk to patients.
It’s for this reason – and this reason only - that the Trust is proposing a temporary suspension of the service at the ABC. The Chief Executive and managers of the maternity service are meeting next Monday to review all options before a final decision is made. Safety will be the deciding factor.
If a temporary suspension is agreed this will affect the delivery and post-delivery aspect of the service only and is planned to start in December and could last up to four months. Midwives will continue to attend with home births and antenatal clinics at the centre as well as clinic sessions at GP surgeries.
There are no financial savings attached to this temporary measure. The Trust is acting purely on the grounds of safety in the light of sustained staffing difficulties.
The staffing levels improve at the end of March when periods of planned leave come to an end and newly qualified midwives will be available to work in Andover (following the end of their supervision period in Winchester).
The centre usually runs with the equivalent of 12 full time midwives. At present it is about 25% down on staffing. Recruiting trained midwives to fill the gaps or using colleagues from the maternity department in Winchester has not been possible. The Trust has recently done well to recruit midwives against the backdrop of a national shortage, but it has been unable to find temporary and trained midwives to cover the current shortfall.
Providing the right level of midwives has been increasingly difficult recently and is likely to get worse as the usual pressures of winter take effect. Seasonal sickness absence (including caring for unwell family members) has added to the difficulty caused by a larger than normal number of midwives being on maternity leave.
The staff at the ABC have worked incredibly hard to maintain the birthing service but the Trust cannot expect its staff to continue to work extra hours or postpone essential training which is vital for maintaining a safe, high quality service.
The Trust will use the time between December and March to comprehensively review the staffing at the ABC for the longer term and to continue discussions with commissioners and colleagues in Hampshire, Wiltshire and Berkshire with the aim of reopening with a remit to deliver a comprehensive birthing service to women from a wider area.
In the last financial year there were 205 births at the ABC, with 59 births occurring between Dec 2008 and March 2009.