Birth unit at Colchester General Hospital closed for 36 hours after shortage of specialist beds

Colchester General Hospital

Colchester General Hospital

Expectant mums due to give birth at Colchester General Hospital were forced to travel as far as Norfolk, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire to have their babies due to a shortage of specialist beds.

The hospital’s maternity unit was closed for 36 hours from 1.30am on Sunday until yesterday afternoon because the Neonatal Unit was full.

Babies born with any complications are taken to the Neonatal Unit for extra support.

Hospital bosses said the unit was particularly busy due to a spate of twins being born and newborn babies needing to spend more time in the cots.

A total of 13 women who would usually have gone to Colchester to give birth were instead sent to hospitals across the region including Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, Norwich, Cambridge and Bedford, as well as other hospitals in the county.


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The unit has only been closed on two other occasions in the past 30 years, and lead midwife for the delivery suite Julie Hinchcliffe said most maternity units in the area had been closed temporarily at some point in the past six months, most commonly because of a shortage of staff.

Mrs Hinchcliffe said: “The decision was taken by clinicians on safety grounds in the best interests of unborn babies because there was no neonatal unit capacity available if any newborn baby required extra support.

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“These were the nearest hospitals with spare neonatal unit capacity.

“We would like to thank those families affected for their co-operation and will be writing to them all to apologise for the inconvenience and disruption that will inevitably have been caused by being unable to give birth in Colchester.”

The Neonatal Unit, previously known as the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU), has 17 cots which include one intensive care cot and four high-dependency cots.

It admits 550-600 sick or premature babies every year, 25-30% of which need ventilator support.

Last year the birthing units at Clacton and Harwich hospitals, also run by the Colchester Hospital University Foundation NHS Trust, were closed for three months due to a shortage of midwives at the Colchester General Hospital unit.

Midwives were instead based at the main birthing centre in Colchester, with Tendring mothers sent to Colchester to give birth.

In November Colchester General Hospital declared a major internal incident for 13 days as it dealt with a large influx of patients arriving at its accident and emergency department and fewer patients being discharged.

However this did not affect the maternity ward.

Were you one of the mums affected? If so please get in touch by emailing will.lodge@archant.co.uk.

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