Maternity units in Clacton and Harwich look set to re-open – but only on an on-demand basis.

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Both midwife-led birthing units used to have an around-the-clock presence, but were closed by hospital chiefs in March due to a shortage of midwives at the central unit in Colchester.

Midwives from the coastal units were instead used to plug the shortfall in Colchester until more staff could be recruited. The two centres have only been open for ante- and post-natal classes, while mothers have had to travel to Colchester for births or have home deliveries.

There are approximately 66 births per week at Colchester with an average of five births per week between the coastal units.

The move sparked three protest marches by local residents in Tendring, who were particularly concerned the closure could be made permanent.

The Colchester Hospital University Foundation NHS Trust (CHUFT) board has said through-out the closure it was a temporary measure, and in no way an indicator of the direction of a future review of the maternity service as a whole.

Any permanent closure would require the agreement of the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group and a public consultation.

Hospital chiefs at a board meeting tomorrow are set to make a decision on whether to continue the on-going closure of the units.

However the recommendation before them is to re-open both centres as on-demand units, rather than on a 24-7 basis, from July.

This means that aside from ante- and post-natal classes the units will be closed until the on-call midwife receives a call to say a birth is happening, at which point the unit will be opened.

The units can only be used by expectant mums who are classed as low-risk. High-risk mothers will still have to travel to Colchester, as was the case before the temporary closure.

Tomorrow’s meeting is the first for interim chief executive Dr Lucy Moore in her new role, and also the first since Trust chairman Dr Sally Irvine announced she would be stepping down in September.

The search for a new permanent chief executive has been on hold to allow a new chairman to be appointed and involved in the recruitment process.

Other items for discussion include the ongoing steps to get cancer services back on track following last year’s waiting times scandal and addressing issues raised in the Keogh Review.

The board of directors meets tomorrow at 1pm in Training Rooms South, at Colchester General Hospital in Turner Road, Colchester. It is open to the public.

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