Weston's maternity ward must treble births to survive

PUBLISHED: 06:20 02 November 2017

The number of births at Weston General Hospital is 'unsustainable'.

The number of births at Weston General Hospital is 'unsustainable'.

Archant

A misconception that Weston General Hospital's maternity ward is not safe is the reason why the number of women using it is so low, according to one of its directors.

John Penrose.John Penrose.

The ward’s future is under review as, on average, only three babies are born there every week.

Weston MP John Penrose said it is not right women face having to travel to South Gloucestershire or Bristol to give birth, should the town’s own service be scrapped.

North Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has published a vision for Weston healthcare for the next 10-15 years. The Healthy Weston plan says the annual number of births at the hospital must almost treble from 170 to 500 to make it ‘clinically or financially viable’.

Peter Collins, medical director at Weston Area Health NHS Trust (WAHT) , said it was only right to look at the service’s future if it is not being used.

Weston General Hospital's A&E unit will not reopen fully before Christmas.Weston General Hospital's A&E unit will not reopen fully before Christmas.

He said: “To provide a safe service, there’s a minimum number of people who need to give birth in the unit. If we fail to reach those numbers then it’s not sustainable in the future.”

But Mr Penrose said the lack of use is ‘peculiar’.

He said: “With health chiefs saying they’re planning to increase the number of patients getting common or routine treatments and procedures at the hospital, and the number of young families in Weston going up steadily, most people would expect our maternity unit to be growing rather than shrinking.

“Why should Weston’s expectant mothers have to travel miles further to have their babies than people in Bristol or South Gloucestershire, where the local maternity units are much closer?

Peter Collins. Picture: Paul Groom Photography.Peter Collins. Picture: Paul Groom Photography.

“Or is this another example of treating Weston’s health needs like a poor relation?”

Phil Walmsley, WAHT’s director of operations, said because the unit is midwifery-led, people have unfounded fears.

He said: “Mothers have a choice where they will have babies. We can’t force them to have them in an environment they don’t want.

“Part of the problem is we don’t have obstetricians.

“It’s perfectly safe to deliver in Weston’s midwifery unit... but there’s a public perception it is safer to deliver with a bigger back-up team.”

The CCG and the hospital are planning a campaign to increase usage of the unit. But CCG chairman Mary Backhouse admits the problem is ‘not new’.

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