That was the comment from one member of the public at SaTH’s Board meeting on 29th June. It’s all too clear that health bosses haven’t got a clue about the needs of rural areas.
The meeting nodded through a disgraceful paper – a plan to close the three rural maternity units – Oswestry, Bridgnorth, and Ludlow – for the next 24 weeks. This is apparently in order to do a favour for mothers in rural areas, because ‘regular temporary disruption of services is disruptive’. We’ve been telling them that – and that the closures are massively unsafe!
The proposals leave women forced to travel to Shrewsbury or Telford, and with local antenatal and postnatal care reduced from a 24/7 service to a daytime only 9 to 5 service. Inpatient postnatal care is immediately lost. Women can supposedly opt for a home birth – but campaigners already know of women being told this isn’t an option because there aren’t enough midwives, while (after a Ludlow woman recently waited 2 ½ hours for a midwife to attend her home birth) others will be reluctant to take the risk. The future for the Units after the 24 week closure remains unclear.
Bobbie Brown, Co-ordinator of Save Bridgnorth Maternity Unit, explained why she thinks SaTH is talking nonsense:
For months, SaTH has used the excuse of high levels of staff sickness to justify destroying rural maternity services. From their own report, approved by the Board today, this appears to have been an excuse. Today’s report says that sickness rates in the Maternity Service are lower than the rest of the SaTH (3.79% against the overall 4.08%). It also states that ‘These figures have remained fairly steady’. There’s no excuse here for them having used sickness rates to justify the repeated closure of the rural Maternity Units.
Really oddly, the report identifies the issue of staff taking short-term rather than long-term sickness, as long-term sickness ‘gives more opportunity to plan ahead’. This is just about the regular day to day planning that any manager of any workplace gets on and deals with! To use this as an explanation for closing three Maternity Units for most of June is just bizarre.
And the current vacancy rate is 2.1% – low by NHS standards. It looks like a fair number of staff are working their notice, and you can hardly blame them – but staff shortages cannot possibly account for the battering dished out to rural Maternity. SaTH claimed in its 28th June news release that there’s a fall in the number of midwives prepared to work overtime or temporary bank shifts – but we know midwives who have been trying for months to get permission to work extra shifts!
Let’s be clear – SaTH has chosen to close down our Maternity Units. Frankly, I don’t believe a word they say any more.
Gill George, Of Shropshire Defend Our NHS, highlighted another problem:
They say that 85% of women are using the Consultant-Led Unit and that’s why they have to close the three rural Maternity Units. We think they can’t possibly have read the 2016 national recommendations in ‘Better Births’. Everywhere else in the country, work’s going on to give women more choice – to invest in accessible midwife-led care for women with low-risk pregnancies, so they can give birth close to home. It beggars belief that SaTH is closing midwife-led units to move more and more resources to the Consultant-Led Unit. This is the complete opposite of what the national policy requires them to do.
The reality is that these are cost-driven cuts. They decided back in April 2016 to close the rural Maternity Units to save £1.5 million. This is the latest and most brutal attempt we’ve seen so far. We keep beating them back, but they’re doing everything they can to avoid listening to mothers in our rural communities.
Ally Hiles, Coordinator of Save Ludlow Maternity Unit campaign, gave birth to baby Amelie at home on 7th May, because Ludlow Maternity Unit was closed. The on-call midwife turned up an hour after Amelie was born. Ally issued a stark warning to health leaders:
You put my life and my baby’s life at risk. Now you’re choosing to do the same to many, many other mothers. The journey times from our rural areas to get to Shrewsbury or Telford are just too long – Shrewsbury Hospital is 30 miles away from Ludlow. Taking away rural Maternity Units is as dangerous as it gets. I’m putting you on notice, everyone on the Boards of SaTH and Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group. There is a tragedy waiting to happen here. If a mother or baby dies or suffers harm, we’re coming after you.
And Liz Grayston, of Save Oswestry Maternity Unit campaign, summed up the mood of campaigners brilliantly:
We fight, we respond… We march, united across Shropshire.
Maternity campaigners will be marching in Oswestry on Sunday 9th July, assembling 10.30 am at Bailey Head.