Councillors call for creation of “maternity hub”

Published Thursday, 14th February 2019

Councillors have voiced support for the creation of a “maternity hub” in Hartlepool following an in-depth investigation into services currently on offer to expectant mums.

Whilst members of Hartlepool Borough Council’s Audit and Governance Committee, say their preferred option continues to be the re-establishment of a full consultant-led maternity unit at the University Hospital of Hartlepool (UHH), they believe that the development of a hub offering a range of maternity and other family services would be a big step forward.

Councillor brenda loynes speaking as chair of audit and governance committee second from right web

Councillor Brenda Loynes speaking as Chair of Audit and Governance Committee (second from right)

Acknowledging that the provision of high-quality maternity services is a particularly emotive issue for residents of Hartlepool, the committee has made the investigation its primary focus over recent months.

The committee heard from a series of expert witnesses, carried out an online survey of new mums’ experiences and visited a similar hub in Blackburn, Lancashire - acknowledged as a model of good practice.

Speaking following a meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee, Councillor Brenda Loynes, the Chair of the committee, said: “The committee felt very strongly that services should be returned to UHH and that factors driving service change, including staff shortages and changing standards, need to be resolved without penalising local communities.”

Maternity service provision at UHH changed in 2008 in response to the Safer Childbirth: Minimum Standards for the Organisation and Delivery of Care agenda which saw consultant obstetricians removed and the creation of a midwife-led “open when required” birthing centre.

There has since been a significant fall in the number of babies born at the UHH birthing centre, even to so-called “low risk” mums.

The committee found that many expectant mums were choosing to give birth at the University Hospital of North Tees where a midwifery service operates alongside a full consultant-led obstetrics unit.

Councillor Loynes said: “Our investigations revealed that the lack of a consultant on site at UHH, a perception that the UHH birthing centre is closed, the operation of the centre on an “open as required” basis, concern over ambulance response times should a mum giving birth at UHH need to be transferred to the University Hospital of North Tees and a general lack of promotion of the birthing unit with new mums are all contributing to a reduction in the number of births at UHH.

“The issue over ambulance response times was a particular concern and it centres on the UHH Birthing Centre’s designation as a “place of safety”. This means that if the North East Ambulance Service is under severe pressure and unable to respond immediately to all category 1 calls then patients not in a place of safety are prioritised and as a result an ambulance may take longer than the average 7-minute response to reach the birthing centre.

“The committee intends to address this issue with the Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) as the commissioner of ambulance services. We would like the CCG to re-negotiate their contract with the North East Ambulance Service to remove the designation of the UHH birthing centre as a “place of safety” and give an assurance that calls for assistance from the centre would be given the highest possible priority.”

The committee has also called for a marketing plan to be put in place to promote the breadth of services available to mums in Hartlepool, specific promotion of the UHH birthing centre and a review of staff training to ensure consistency of professional advice about the options available to expectant mums.

Councillor Loynes added: “I have had a number of meetings with representatives of the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust to voice my concerns over maternity services in Hartlepool and they do appear to be listening. The creation of a “maternity hub” would be a major step forward but the restoration of a full consultant-led maternity service continues to be our top priority going forward.”