Maternity unit opening fight stepped up

PROTESTORS kept up the pressure on a health trust to reinstate 24-hour opening times at a maternity unit when they took to the streets of their town.About 600 people marched through Braintree to voice their objections to the downgrading of the maternity unit at William Julien Courtauld Hospital.

By Annie Davidson

PROTESTORS kept up the pressure on a health trust to reinstate 24-hour opening times at a maternity unit when they took to the streets of their town.

About 600 people marched through Braintree to voice their objections to the downgrading of the maternity unit at William Julien Courtauld Hospital.

The unit closed down in October last year after high levels of sickness caused staff shortages among midwives in Essex.

Mums-to-be were told they would have to give birth at St Johns Hospital in Chelmsford.

When the unit reopened about a month later, the situation was reviewed and it was decided it would open from 9am-5pm.

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Between 5pm-9am, labouring women have to call a midwife to come and open the unit or go to St Johns to give birth.

Protesters have branded the situation "ridiculous" and mounted a campaign to have 24-hour opening reinstated.

More than 1,500 people signed a petition and Braintree MP Alan Hurst has also given his support.

On Saturday, campaigners took to the streets of Braintree and marched in protest at the decision from Fairfield Road to Marshalls Park in London Road.

At the park, speeches were given including one by Mr Hurst.

Leading campaigner Ann Fuller said health bosses had decided the birth rate at the unit had to go up for it to reopen round the clock.

But she claimed this was made harder by the current situation as many women - especially first-time mums - would be frightened by the current arrangements and book into Chelmsford instead.

Last month, Raz Mack, of Silver End, gave birth in the car park at William Julien Courtauld after arriving at the unit during the night to find it closed.

Ms Mack and her partner, Andy Harris, had been unaware the unit was not open 24 hours and baby Bobby was delivered by a paramedic in the back of the couple's Renault Clio.

Mrs Fuller said: "The march went really, really well and there must have been about 600 people there.

"We are not happy with the current situation and want the unit open 24 hours.

"We are in a catch 22 situation and believe the birth rate would go up if the unit was open all the time but if you are in labour you do not want the hassle of ringing a midwife to come and meet you."

Mrs Fuller said there also would be less pressure on St Johns Hospital if women were able to give birth at Braintree all the time.

Mr Hurst said the march had been "very positive" and added: "We need to keep the pressure up. The problem is that because the unit is not 24 hours it is difficult to get people to book in there.

"It should be open full-time to give women a real choice about where they give birth."

Campaigners will be meeting to discuss their next move and are considering holding a 24-hour vigil outside the maternity unit.

A spokesman for Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust said: "We are working to make sure the best possible maternity services are delivered in the area.

"Both sides realise that for the unit to be open 24 hours there must be sufficient demand for it."

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