Campaigners criticise health chiefs

HEALTH bosses who ordered the closure of a maternity unit because of midwife shortages made no attempt to plug the gap with agency staff, campaigners have claimed.

HEALTH bosses who ordered the closure of a maternity unit because of midwife shortages made no attempt to plug the gap with agency staff, campaigners have claimed.

Harwich Maternity Unit is temporarily closed so staff can fill in at Colchester General Hospital where eight full-time posts are vacant.

The move was met with protests from local residents and mums-to-be voiced fears about travelling 20 miles to Colchester to give birth.

The Hands Off Our Hospital campaign group yesterdayhit out at health bosses for failing to employ agency staff to work at Colchester, allowing the Harwich unit to remain open.

Campaign committee member Paul Tipplesaid it had easily found one agency with three midwives available.

He said Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust, which runs Harwich and Colchester hospitals, had claimed agency staff were unavailable.

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"They say they need more midwifes and we are providing them with the means to do this but they are refusing to take them on," said Mr Tipple.

"The Harwich unit could reopen. We feel there is another agenda and we are being lied to."

A spokesman for Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust said using agency staff to cover midwife vacancies in Colchester would only be a short-term solution.

He said: "We have always made it clear we are not looking for a short-term fix, we are looking for a permanent, sustainable solution.

"If we took on agency staff we would not be able to guarantee that every shift would be covered when it needed to be.

"You do not get continuity because a different person can turn up every day which is not ideal for the women. Least importantly, it costs more to use agency staff than to use our own staff."

The spokesman said five full-time midwifes were needed to ensure safe staff levels, but it was hoped eight would be taken on from a recent recruitment drive.

Mr Tipple replied: "Agency staff may not be ideal but neither is a woman giving birth on the A120 on her way to Colchester," he said.

The health trust has pledged the unit will reopen for births by early next year and by March at the latest, once Colchester's staffing levels have been boosted.

Since Harwich was closed for births a number of demonstrations were held and a petition launched demanding the unit be reopened and its future secured.

annie.davidson@eadt.co.uk

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