Full-time maternity unit hopes fade

CAMPAIGNERS hoping to reinstate 24-hour opening for a maternity hospital have spoken of their frustration after being told it is unlikely to happen unless the birth rate there goes up.

CAMPAIGNERS hoping to reinstate 24-hour opening for a maternity hospital have spoken of their frustration after being told it is unlikely to happen unless the birth rate there goes up.

The 14-bed William Julien Courtauld Hospital (WJC) in Braintree was closed in October last year after high levels of sickness caused staff shortages among Essex midwives.

It reopened around a month later but the hospital is still only operating Mondays to Fridays from 9am to 5pm with women going into labour outside those hours having to call a midwife to open the unit or travel to St John's Hospital in Chelmsford.

Now, at a private meeting with health chiefs, campaigners have been told that until the birth rate at the hospital rises there will be no likely return to 24-hour opening.

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Campaigner Ann Fuller, who attended the meeting along with representatives of the Mid-Essex Hospital Trust and the Witham, Braintree and Halstead Care Trust, said they felt they were in a Catch-22 situation.

“The care trust and the health trust both say they want it to open for 24 hours a day, but they refuse to say when. They are saying we have to get the birth rate up before they reopen it.

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“But if it's closed at night mums are going to be frightened to book in there and will go to Chelmsford.

“People are not going to go there knowing it is going to shut.

“It was not a very good meeting. I find they just won't answer direct questions. It doesn't really matter how many times you ask them.”

More than 1,500 people have signed a petition calling for the full service to be reinstated, with the support of Braintree MP Alan Hurst.

The hospital hit the headlines recently when mother Raz Mack gave birth to a baby in the car park of the hospital after she was taken there believing it to be open.

Yesterday Norma O'Hara, communications manager for the Witham, Braintree and Halstead Care Trust, said: “It is true that raising the birth rate certainly has to happen. What we need is ladies who find themselves pregnant to sign up to the fact they want to go to WJC. It doesn't close at five as such.

“I understand what Ann is saying and I understand that will be some women's concern, but we want to reassure people that, like in other parts of the country, a midwife will follow you in and you can give birth at the unit at any time.

“There is no midwife on site 24 hours a day. But if you want to give birth at WJC out of hours you would call your midwife and she would meet you there.”

And Sally Gooch, director of nursing at Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust, said she felt the meeting had gone well.

“The meeting which I and colleagues from this trust and Witham, Braintree & Halstead Care Trust attended was very amenable and productive.

“I believe everyone now understands the best interests of local women are best served by us all working together.

“We have arranged for members of the pressure group to visit other birthing centres to see how they operate and we will also be working with mums to share the information from questionnaires which have been distributed seeking the views of expectant mothers in terms of where they would like to give birth.

“Both trusts' intention is to provide comprehensive women-centred maternity services for the whole mid-Essex population and we will carry on working in partnership to achieve this aim,” she said.

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