We want our baby unit reopened

By James HoreCAMPAIGNERS have taken to the streets and demanded a town's maternity unit is reopened for 24 hours a day.About 50 people staged a demonstration outside the William Julien Courtauld Hospital in Braintree at the weekend, calling for its baby unit to be fully reopened with a proper post-natal service available.

By James Hore

CAMPAIGNERS have taken to the streets and demanded a town's maternity unit is reopened for 24 hours a day.

About 50 people staged a demonstration outside the William Julien Courtauld Hospital in Braintree at the weekend, calling for its baby unit to be fully reopened with a proper post-natal service available.

Staff shortages mean it currently only opens on Mondays to Fridays from 9am to 5pm - with women going into labour outside those hours having to call a midwife to open the unit.


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Campaigners are also angry that there is no significant post-natal care provided at the hospital, with most mothers sent home within six hours of giving birth.

Braintree MP Alan Hurst, who has pledged his support to the cause, joined mothers and mothers-to-be in their demonstration at the hospital on Saturday afternoon.

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A relative of William Julien Courtauld was also among the protesters outside the hospital, which is run by the Mid Essex Hospital Services Trust.

The 14-bed unit closed in October last year after high levels of sickness caused staff shortages among midwives, but was reopened a month later for low-risk deliveries.

It was in the headlines earlier this month when one woman had to give birth in her Renault Clio in the hospital car park because the unit was shut.

Campaigners taking part in Saturday's protest said pregnant women should not have to worry about arranging for a midwife to open up the unit if they went into labour before 9am or after 5pm.

Juliet Walton, from Black Notley, had three of her four children at the hospital and is expecting her fifth and she voiced concerns about the next time she goes into labour.

"People need the choice to be able to deliver in Braintree and at the moment that choice has been taken away from them," she said.

"There has to be 24-hour care - pregnant women cannot choose how long their labour will take. There are six of us mothers that get together who all had deliveries within an hour.

"I am expecting in September and I don't know what my options are. It could take some of the midwives an hour to get to the unit if I am outside the opening hours and I don't know if I want to take that risk."

Another campaigner, Ann Fuller, has helped to collect a 1,500-signature petition calling for post-natal care to be reintroduced at the hospital.

"We are set to meet with the trust on Thursday, so we are hoping that this protest will make them sit up and take notice," she said.

"A new mother in labour should not have to make phone calls to get someone there, they should not have that sort of hassle. We want it fully reopened at soon as possible."

Mr Hurst, a Labour MP, added: "Braintree mothers deserve the choice of having their babies here, at home or at St John's Hospital in Chelmsford.

"One feels that the health trust are trying to let the unit wither on the vine, but there is colossal support in the town for keeping this."

Julian Courtauld, whose father's cousin was William Julien Courtauld, also joined the campaigners on Saturday.

"This is a similar thing to when there was a bid to close the hospital before, so we formed a group and fought against that," he said.

"We were told that until the new hospital at St Michael's is built, there would not be any reduction of services until that is up and running. It now appears they have not kept that agreement and are reducing services."

Jane Griffiths, director of health care for the Witham, Braintree and Halstead Care Trust, which commissions maternity services from Mid Essex Hospital Services Trust, has said it was committed to keeping the maternity unit open.

"At the moment most midwives are based at St John's because that is where the majority of births take place," she added.

"If we could bring more births across to the unit at Braintree, more midwives would follow. It is not about recruiting more, but moving the ones we have."

james.hore@eadt.co.uk

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