Maternity unit protest stepped up

THE people of Harwich took to the streets yesterday in an angry protest about the closure of a maternity ward. About 200 people gathered outside the Harwich Hospital Maternity Unit which closed its doors to expectant mothers at 5pm last night due to staffing shortages in Colchester General Hospital.

THE people of Harwich took to the streets yesterday in an angry protest about the closure of a maternity ward.

About 200 people gathered outside the Harwich Hospital Maternity Unit which closed its doors to expectant mothers at 5pm last night due to staffing shortages in Colchester General Hospital.

Staff, including midwives from the unit, have been told they will have to transfer to Colchester to cover for the shortage which was the result of a number of retirements.

However, midwives and healthcare assistants joined protestors in a sit-down demonstration on the road outside the ward as a crowd gathered with placards, chanting for the unit to remain open.


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Many of the crowd were mothers who had previously given birth in the Harwich Hospital which they described as the perfect place to bring a child into the world.

Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust, which runs the facility, has emphatically denied the closure will be permanent and has said it will only be in place until staff levels have risen again in Colchester.

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But there was concern among the crowd that it may become permanent.

Team midwife, Lynne Acton, from Wrabness was among those who joined protesters.

“We are very unhappy. At the end of the day we don't want to not support our colleagues - but for years they have been trying to close it.

“This unit was built in the first place because Harwich's 'maternity ward' was on the A120 and our fear is they will not listen to us until something goes seriously wrong.

“We hope there is no hidden agenda on the part of the trust.”

Mrs Acton was among midwives who volunteered to staff the unit out-of-hours to help expectant mothers who could panic and to “help prevent a tragedy”.

Gill Brundle, a healthcare assistant for eight years at the unit, said: “We have had no say in it. I do not even know what shifts I will be working and do not know how long it will be for.”

The street was closed by police as people gathered.

Delia Bennett's daughter-in-law , who gave birth to a son last Thursday, was told she had to leave the unit yesterday despite her wish to remain there until tomorrow or Thursday.

Mrs Bennett from Dovercourt carried a placard warning: “Motorists beware, A120 maternity dash about to start.”

Pregnant mother, Marie Stanford was among the protesters. She threatened to barricade herself into the ward until her baby arrived. It is not due for another two weeks.

Last night she said: “I am going to go on 24-hour picket and will be staying here all night.”

Vickie Williams, chairman of Tendring Health Action Group said the turnout was wonderful.

She said: “It shows what lengths people will go to when services are threatened.”

Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust has denied the closure will become permanent and said it was totally committed to restoring the service as soon as possible.

It is also looking to recruit more midwives, numbers of which have been falling as a result of retirements.

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