Baby unit could reopen within weeks

By Sharon AsplinHOPES were high last night a baby unit that has been shut because of staff shortages could reopen early in the New Year.Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust said it had been forced to close the Harwich Hospital maternity unit because had to redeploy its staff to cover midwife shortages at Colchester General Hospital.

By Sharon Asplin

HOPES were high last night a baby unit that has been shut because of staff shortages could reopen early in the New Year.

Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust said it had been forced to close the Harwich Hospital maternity unit because had to redeploy its staff to cover midwife shortages at Colchester General Hospital.

But the trust revealed last night it appeared a recruitment drive to employ more midwives, which ended on Friday, had been successful.


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Midwives from Harwich Hospital have been relocated to the Colchester maternity unit, which is currently looking to fill eight full-time posts. The trust said if at least five of them were in place, the Harwich unit could reopen.

A trust spokesman said: "Trust chief executive Mike Pollard said the early indications are we have had a decent number of applications both in terms of quantity and in terms of quality.

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"We do not want to make false promises, but we feel there is probably a good chance that we would be able to start delivering babies in Harwich in the first week of January, as opposed to March 1.

"We have always made it clear that if it is possible to open the unit earlier on a permanent and sustainable basis then we will do – we have no desire to run down services at Harwich."

The trust refused to reveal exact details of the number of applications received, saying it did not want to pre-empt a meeting with health campaigners later today.

The East Anglian Daily Times is backing the call for full maternity services to be restored to Harwich Hospital and has launched a Save Our Baby Unit campaign.

Although the trust has cited staffing shortages at Colchester as the reason for closure of the Harwich unit and has reiterated its pledge not to shut it permanently, its position was called into question last week after a leaked letter suggested the unit was actually in danger of shutting on "clinical risk grounds".

The claim about a "depletion of midwifery skills" – vehemently denied by the Harwich midwives – came in a confidential letter from Mr Pollard to Bernard Jenkin, the North Essex MP.

Mr Pollard said the issues raised, which related to training, had been dealt with and should have remained confidential.

sharon.asplin@eadt.co.uk

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