EADT fights to save maternity unit

By James Hore and Becky HallewellTHE East Anglian Daily Times is launching today a Save Our Baby Unit campaign to ensure a town keeps its under-threat maternity ward.

By James Hore and Becky Hallewell

THE East Anglian Daily Times is launching today a Save Our Baby Unit campaign to ensure a town keeps its under-threat maternity ward.

Health bosses sparked outrage in Harwich when they decided to move midwives from the town's hospital to cover for staff shortages at Colchester General Hospital.

The move - which health bosses said was a temporary measure - means pregnant women cannot give birth at Harwich Hospital's maternity unit and have to travel 20 miles to have their babies in Colchester.

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Hundreds of angry residents, including expectant mothers and children, have already staged a demonstration outside the hospital to voice their concerns about the move.

Midwives from the unit also joined the protesters, claiming pregnant women could be forced into a “dangerous and vulnerable position”. They have offered to work for nothing in their spare time to keep the unit open.

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A petition has been started in the town, getting more than 1,000 signatures in just a week, and the EADT has launched today the Save Our Baby Unit campaign.

The EADT is publishing a coupon for readers to sign, calling on Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust bosses to ensure Harwich Hospital maternity unit is reopened and stays in the town.

EADT editor, Terry Hunt, said: “Keeping services in the local community has always been one of the beliefs of our paper and nowhere is this more important than in the health service.

“We would urge Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust to listen to the people of Harwich and ensure that this vital and much-loved facility stays in the town.”

The hospital's maternity unit - along with its accident and emergency department - was previously under threat in 1997.

More than 15,000 people signed a petition which demanded the Government continued full services at the hospital at a time when the maternity and its accident and emergency departments were under threat of closure.

Hundreds of residents also headed to Westminster to make their views known to MPs.

Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust, which provides midwives at Harwich Hospital, has assured people the closure of the town's maternity unit will only be a short-term measure, although it does not anticipate it reopening before 2004.

However, Harwich MP Ivan Henderson is to meet with the Mike Pollard, the trust's chief executive, today and demand to know its plans for the future of the maternity unit.

Bernard Jenkin, North Essex MP, added: “I have written to Mike Pollard to express my support for the midwives and to demand immediate action as the closure of the Harwich unit is a major failure of a core NHS service.”

Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust apologised yesterday for the closure, but said the temporary move was a matter of safety.

A spokesman said: “The trust regrets having to make this decision and we do apologise for any inconvenience that it will cause.

“The unit is not closed, it is still opening every morning, Monday to Friday, for anti and post-natal advice and we still have consultant-led obstetrician clinics and ultra-sound scanning.”

He added: “The reason why we have taken this decision is to maintain safe staffing levels in Colchester, which has 3,330 births every year. In Harwich last year there were 138 births and in August this year there were just four.

“The trust is totally committed to restoring full services in Harwich. Our chief executive, Mike Pollard, made it clear when he joined that he believed in community hospitals and believed in people having services as near to their homes as possible.”

The spokesman said the trust had been aware of an impending shortage of midwives in Colchester, but added there was a national shortage that was making recruiting even more competitive.

“We want to open it again as soon as possible, but we can't give a firm date, although we are hoping to do so by January 2004,” he said.

“We think people in Harwich are intelligent enough to appreciate the reasons why we have taken this decision and ask for them to bear with us through this difficult time.”

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