Maternity unit finally set to reopen

THE NHS trust which runs the maternity unit at Harwich Hospital has officially confirmed that mothers will be able to give birth there again from Monday, March 1.

By Sharon Asplin

THE NHS trust which runs the maternity unit at Harwich Hospital has officially confirmed that mothers will be able to give birth there again from Monday, March 1.

The reopening will bring an end to five months of angry protest by Harwich residents who took to the streets to emphasise how incensed they were by the temporary closure.

Local residents were backed by the East Anglian Daily Times, which launched its own Save Our Baby Unit campaign to ensure the town kept its maternity ward.

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The announcement was made following a meeting involving representatives of Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust led by its chief executive Mike Pollard, Harwich MP Ivan Henderson, Vickie Williams, of the Tendring Health Action Group, Harwich midwives and a Royal College of Midwives representative.

Harwich maternity unit, where 138 babies were born last year, closed for deliveries on September 15 so midwives could transfer to Colchester General Hospital, where 3,300 babies are born a year and which at the time was suffering from a significant shortage of midwives.

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Mr Pollard apologised for any inconvenience the 24-week closure was causing but stressed that it had always been a temporary measure.

"Very soon after we reluctantly closed the unit for deliveries, I stated that women would be able to give birth there again from March 1 at the latest - or earlier, depending on recruitment," he said.

"We now have sufficient staff to enable the Harwich unit to re-open for deliveries from March 1 on a sustainable basis.

"I would like to express my full confidence and that of the trust in the capabilities and competence of all the midwives working in Harwich.

"I would also like to thank the Harwich midwives and the health care assistants for the support they have given to their colleagues during the recent staff crisis in Colchester."

Labour MP Mr Henderson added: "From the very first meeting at Westminster, I have been very grateful to everyone who has contributed in a positive and constructive manner to resolve this difficult situation.

"We must now ensure that the lessons are learned so that we don't face similar difficulties in the future."

But Steve Gunnell, a committee member of the Hands Off Our Hospital campaign, said: "Of course I am pleased the unit is definitely to reopen but we are still angry that it has taken so long and had to shut in the first place."

Essex Rivers Healthcare has successfully recruited midwives through a combination of an advertising campaign and midwives moving into the area from outside.

Since September 15, women from Harwich who wish to deliver in hospital have had the option of using maternity units at either Clacton Hospital or Colchester General Hospital, which are also run by the trust.

All other services at the Harwich unit, which include consultant-led clinics and ultrasound scanning, have continued as normal.

The trust stressed its decision to temporarily reduce the service it provided at Harwich's maternity unit had been fully supported by doctors and other obstetrics staff.

There has been a national shortage of midwives for years which North East Essex had largely avoided until the summer and autumn of last year.

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