Wiltshire Publications

Birthing unit closure is ‘short-sighted’ says campaigners

Story posted on

THE decision to close Trowbridge Hospital’s birthing unit has been labelled as ‘short-sighted’ by local health campaigners.

From April, Trowbridge’s midwifery unit will only provide pre- and post-natal services – which has prompted concerns about the impact this will have on expectant mothers in Westbury, who will have to travel further afield to give birth.

Local health campaigner and former chair of the Westbury League of Friends, Erica Watson, says that families without easy access to transport will be at a disadvantage, as public transport is ‘expensive’ and ‘time-consuming’. 

And she has also raised questions about the loss of another local service, whilst the number of houses being built in the area continues to rise.

“I feel uncomfortable and sad about the planned closure of the maternity beds at Trowbridge,” Erica told White Horse News,  “The Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) mention efficiency as one of the reasons for relocating services and of course it will be more efficient for the CCG, but possibly not for families having to travel much further to access care.  

“The loss of these beds may disadvantage families without easy access to transport and also could impact on an already over-stretched ambulance service if parents need to get to hospital quickly and safely. 

“I can quite see why the service has been closed if 95% of the time beds at Trowbridge were empty, but it is a shame that Westbury (and other West Wiltshire) towns’ users will now lose out again on services which are local and less expensive to access.

“Will the midwifery staff be retained in the community to support the possible early and speedy discharge necessary to provide enough beds for a growing population? 

“With the huge increase in housing developments in the area I do wonder if this decision is short-sighted, if essential for financial reasons. 

“At a time when we are all being encouraged to use ours cars less to ease environmental damage, it is hard to see how closing local services will do anything but increase the already identified poor air quality in the area. Public transport to the larger hospitals is both expensive and time-consuming for young families.

“Local protesters fought long and hard to try to save the hospital in Westbury which is now another housing development and a decade on, more protesters tried to prevent the closure of the few maternity beds left in Trowbridge which were easy to access for a growing young local population. But once again services are to be centralised into vast and sometimes impersonal spaces with quick turn arounds, which can leave new parents feeling vulnerable. 

“The decision has left people feeling that they are not listened to despite a consultation and for me this is terribly disappointing, but sadly not surprising.”

Andy Milroy, who has campaigned tirelessly against the proposals said, “In the four years to early 2019, over 90 heavily pregnant women in Wiltshire were forced to give birth without a midwife present, either in a car, a taxi or an ambulance on the way to a distant birthing unit. How many more will this happen to if Trowbridge is closed? Women from Westbury will have to travel past Trowbridge to Chippenham or RUH!

“There are deprived area within the catchment of the birthing unit, whose family have no car. Taxi drivers may well not want a messy birth on their back seat. Some ambulance authorities maintain that ambulances are for life- threatening emergencies, and that child birth is not a life-threatening emergency. Some women, already extremely stressed, with the birth of their child imminent,  will be faced with having the baby, terrified and alone, without any support from a midwife or indeed any medical personnel. That is a worst case scenario. 

‘Another is an expectant mother arrives at the RUH or Chippenham after a lengthy journey and is told to go home, the baby won’t come yet. They get home, the contractions start in earnest, and the woman now in advanced labour has to get back to the distant birthing unit.”

The joint governing bodies of Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Groups (BSW CCGs) approved the closure of Trowbridge’s birthing unit at a meeting earlier this month. Paulton (Bristol) birthing unit will also close, whilst the free standing midwifery units in Chippenham and Frome will remain open for births. 

Alongside midwifery units will be created at Salisbury District Hospital and the Royal United Hospital in Bath.

The BSW CCGs has said that the changes will mean, “equal access to choice for women about where to have their babies, a more effective use of resources, a better supported homebirth service and enhanced antenatal and postnatal care.”

Following the decision, Dr Ruth Grabham, medical director for Bath and North East Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group and governing body member said, “We are very grateful to everyone who gave their time and expertise over the last three years as this proposal was developed and refined. From mums and dads who use the services to clinical experts and local organisations – everyone has helped to steer a path through the complexities of service change.

“We know that in both Paulton and Trowbridge there were strong feelings in support of women continuing to be able to give birth in the existing free standing midwifery units and some people will be disappointed by today’s (16th January) decision. However this proposal was approved to help us better meet the needs and choices of women and families across the whole of Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire.

“As a result of feedback we have delayed the closure of four of the community postnatal beds to allow more time to work with mums, families and staff to co-design a new community postnatal offer that will meet the needs of local people. The feedback, for example around breastfeeding and mental health support, will also be used to help shape our future maternity services.”

More information on the changes can be found on the Transforming Maternity Services Together website: www.transformingmaternity.org.uk