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Hospital birthing centre closed for ‘safety reasons’

Friarwood Birth Centre at Pontefract Hospital will close until next September.

A spokesman for the centre said hospital bosses were struggling to fill vacancies as a result of the national midwife shortage so had ‘reluctantly taken the difficult decision’ to temporarily close the centre from November 8 until September 30, 2020, on the grounds of safety.

The spokesman said the centre had to employ its midwives at Pinderfields Hospital and Dewsbury and District Hospital, where 5700 women choose to give birth each year, as opposed to Friarwood birth centre, where 300 give birth.

Martin Barkley, chief executive of the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said it wasn’t fair to patients or staff to continue to stretch the centre’s midwifery resource so thinly. He said:

‘We have taken the decision to close the Friarwood Birth Centre at Pontefract Hospital from 8 November 2019 to 30 September 2020. Mid Yorkshire, in common with many other trusts, has a number of midwife vacancies, which we struggle to fully recruit to in the context of a national shortage of midwives.

‘Despite having been delighted to recruit 15 midwives from the cohort of newly qualified midwives that join the NHS at this time every year, it has not been enough to ensure we have an adequate number of midwives across three midwife-led units and our obstetric service based at Pinderfields Hospital. It is, therefore, challenging to consistently provide the excellent standard of service we strive to provide for our mums-to-be; nor is it fair to our staff to continue to stretch our midwifery resource so thinly.

‘5700 women give birth at Pinderfields Hospital each year and more than 300 at the Dewsbury midwifery-led unit, which typically has 50 per cent more births than at Friarwood in Pontefract. We have to deploy our midwives where they are most needed and therefore we have reluctantly taken the difficult decision to temporarily close the Friarwood Birth Centre on the grounds of safety.’

Earlier this year  Pontefract MP Yvette Cooper, presented a 1,000-name petition to protect the maternity unit, saying mums should have a choice rather than having to go to Pinderfields, which is already overstretched. She said:

‘This is appalling.

‘Pontefract midwife-led maternity unit is set to close for 11 months because of national midwife shortages.

‘The Tories have completely failed for 10 years to recruit the midwives our NHS needs and it is local mums and families who are paying the price.’

Mr Barkley said mums-to-be who had planned to give birth at the centre would be given a full range of options. He said:

‘We recognise there has, for some time, been a lack of clarity around the status of the Friarwood Birth Centre because of discussions about its future.

‘We hope this decision, whilst disappointing, gives our mums-to-be some certainty in the immediate term, and our midwives will be happy to discuss with women their choices around place of birth, for which we will still be offering the full range of options. From home birth through to the excellent midwifery-led facilities at Pinderfields and Dewsbury. And we will continue to run antenatal and postnatal clinics at Pontefract.

‘This decision is purely driven by our shortage of midwives and does not in any way pre-empt discussions that have been taking place about the future of the Friarwood Birth Centre.

‘We keep our midwife vacancies under constant scrutiny and, should the situation change, particularly when we once again have the opportunity to recruit from the cohort of newly qualified midwives next autumn, we will review this decision.’

Photo Credit – Mid Yorkshire NHS

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