Harwich/Clacton: Shock as two coastal maternity units are temporarily closed until June
- Credit: Andrew Partridge
Concerns over the low number of midwives at a hospital have led to the temporary closure of two coastal maternity units.
Women booked to give birth at the maternity units at Clacton and Harwich community hospitals will instead be offered a home birth or delivery at Colchester General Hospital. The birthing centre at Halstead Hospital is also affected.
The decision was taken on clinical advice by the board of directors of Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust which runs all maternity services in north east Essex.
Harwich and North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin has branded the decision as “dictatorial”.
Amanda Hallums, divisional director of women’s and children’s services at Colchester Hospital Trust, apologised to those affected.
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“The board took this decision because of concerns about the low number of midwives at Colchester General Hospital in relation to the high number of births there,” she said.
“The Department of Health accepts the ideal ratio should be one midwife for every 29 births in a year.
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“At Colchester, where there’s an average of 70 births a week, this ratio is 1:39 whereas at Clacton it’s 1:18 and at Harwich it’s 1:14, where there’s a total of five births a week on average. We need to place our resources where the need is greater.”
But a disappointed Mr Jenkin said: “This decision is very sudden and feels dictatorial. There’s been no consultation as far as I’m aware. “Colchester Hospital insists this is only temporary and the decision is going to be reviewed in June but they can’t guarantee the service will re-open in June.
“They can’t explain why they have made this decision because they have known about the disparity in midwife to patient numbers for months, if not years.
“We have wanted more community services ever since I have been an MP and everything always gets centralised to Colchester Hospital.”
Mrs Hallums said it was no longer sustainable to take midwives from Clacton and Harwich to provide cover at Colchester.
She added: “The temporary change will move the ratio at Colchester General Hospital to 1:30 and this will come down further still after we’ve recruited the 5.6 extra midwives that the Trust has agreed to fund.”
Some Clacton and Harwich midwives will transfer temporarily to Colchester while others will remain to provide antenatal and postnatal care.
The decision was made prior to a joint review of all maternity services in north east Essex involving the Trust and North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (NEECCG).
Lisa Llewelyn, director of nursing and clinical quality for NEECCG, said: “Once we have a full picture from an independent review, both the CCG and the hospital will be in the best place to propose options for change to the public which offer high quality, safe, fair and sustainable services.”
The maternity services review is expected to begin before the end of March while the hospital’s board will review the decision in June.