Hospital closes maternity unit after electrical fault

ONE of the busiest maternity units in Essex has been closed to new births because of safety concerns about electrical equipment, the EADT can reveal.

Colchester General Hospital’s Special Care Baby Unit was hit by an unexplained power surge on Tuesday afternoon causing damage to crucial equipment including incubators and syringe drivers used to give fluids and medication.

None of the 16 sick and premature babies were harmed but a decision was taken to suspend new births until further notice. Expectant mothers are being contacted and given alternative options for hospitals including Harlow, Ipswich and West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds.

Other choices include home births and Clacton or Harwich hospitals – neither of which have the specialist neo-natal units which Colchester has for when complications arise.

Spare equipment has been put into place and tests have been taking place to try to find out what caused the power surge in the maternity unit where nearly 4,000 babies were born last year.


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The special care baby unit, known as the SCBU, has its own uninterrupted power supply meaning it is not affected when there is a general power cut.

Hospital bosses said they want the issue fully resolved so they could be confident there would not be a repeat of Tuesday’s fault.

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A series of emergency meeting have been taking place and at 4pm yesterday it was decided that the maternity unit would remain shut.

Another is planned for this morning when it will be decided if it is safe to re-open the unit.

Julie Firth, director of nursing, said: “We apologise to the small number of women expecting to give birth in Colchester who will inevitably be inconvenienced and also to their partners and families. So far five women have been affected.

“Our staff have been contacting these women by phone and have also made the ambulance service and the maternity units at Ipswich, Chelmsford, Bury St Edmunds and Harlow aware.

“We are working very hard to resolve the electrical and equipment issues. A decision will be taken at a meeting at 10am about whether we will by then be ready to resume a full and normal service.”

Mrs Firth stressed that none of the 16 babies on the neo-natal unit at the time of the equipment failure came to any harm and they are continuing to be cared for on the unit.

As an additional back-up four incubators have been borrowed from Ipswich Hospital.

All other maternity services at Colchester General Hospital, such as antenatal clinics and the antenatal assessment unit, are running as normal.

A trust spokesman added: “This situation will change when the electrical issue, which is confined to the neo-natal unit, has been fully resolved, and when the trust has been able to access additional equipment.

“The maternity units that Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust manage at the community hospitals at Clacton and Harwich continue to run as normal, and women still have the option of a home birth.”

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