Tendring’s maternity units to be open on-demand permanently, report recommends

A protest march in Dovercourt campaigning against the temporary closure of maternity services.

A protest march in Dovercourt campaigning against the temporary closure of maternity services. - Credit: Archant

Maternity units in Harwich and Clacton look set to become open on an on-demand basis permanently, it has emerged.

The midwife-led centres at the Fryatt and Clacton hospitals were open 24/7 until March last year, when they were temporarily closed so staff could be relocated to the main maternity unit at Colchester General Hospital to cover a shortage of midwives.

They re-opened on an on-demand basis in June, but both Colchester Hospital University Foundation NHS Trust (CHUFT), which runs the service, and the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group said any permanent change would have to go through a consultation.

Operating on-demand means the centres are open during day-time hours, and then opened up by midwives during the night if a mother goes into labour rather than being constantly staffed, often with no births taking place.

High-risk births continue to be sent to Colchester General Hospital as has always been the case.

But following a review and consultation, a recommendation has now been made to keep the units operating on-demand. The review was carried out by an independent panel, chaired by Healthwatch Essex.

A report on the matter is now due to be discussed at a hospital trust board meeting on Thursday.

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Dr Tom Nutt, chief executive of Healthwatch Essex, said: “Healthwatch Essex hopes the decision on the coastal maternity units will provide some certainty for the people of north east Essex.

“Having been involved in the recommendation panel, we were able to ensure the voice of service users was heard, as part of the mix of factors that underpin this decision.

“Our recommendation to CHUFT and NEE CCG is that the voice and lived experience of mums and dads is put at the heart of the future delivery of maternity care Clacton, Harwich and Colchester.”

Both the temporary closure of the units and the switch from a 24/7 to on-demand service sparked concern in the Tendring community, including some protest marches, although local MPs were thankful the units had remained open.

Clacton MP Douglas Carswell said: “The key is that we got the unit re-opened, and it is going to be available for anyone who wants it.

“I am meeting a group of midwives next week to discuss the practicalities of it and other concerns they have, but the key is that it is definitely going to stay open.”

Harwich and North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin added: “The important test is whether someone who wants to have their baby there can have it there, and that would satisfy that requirement.

“I am delighted it is going to stay open because at one stage it looked like it would be closed, and I salute everyone who successfully campaigned to keep it open.”