Pontefract Hospital maternity unit to close as part of relentless focus on safety

Health chiefs have approved recommendations to close the maternity unit at Pontefract Hospital.

A meeting heard how the decision was taken partly due to a ‘relentless focus’ on safety.

Maternity provision will continue to be prioritised at Pinderfields Hospital.

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The meeting was told ante-natal and post-natal care services will remain at Pontefract.

Pontefract HospitalPontefract Hospital
Pontefract Hospital

Members of the Wakefield District Health and Care Partnership (WDHCP) committee agreed to the permanent closure of Friarwood Birth Centre at a meeting on Tuesday (January 9).

The centre was temporarily shut in 2019 “on the grounds of clinical safety” due to a midwife shortage.

The NHS also said the number of births at Pontefract was “lower than expected” so it could not justify midwives being deployed there.

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Before the suspension, around 200 women a year give birth at Pontefract.

Nursing director Penny Woodhead told the meeting that extensive consultation had taken place with the public and medical staff prior to the temporary closure.

Ms Woodhead explained how maternity services had been under pressure due to staff shortages.

She said: “There had been a number of open and close episodes which, for members of the public, women and their families and also for staff, were less than satisfactory.

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“We need to make a formal decision around sustainability so we can make long-term plans over the deployment of resources.”

Ms Woodhead said the move would help local services achieve national maternity standards.

She added: “There is the relentless need to focus on safety for women and our newborns.”

Ruth Unwin, director of strategy, said it was important for women in the east of the district to continue to access to post-natal and ante-natal services at Pontefract.

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She said: “It is a service that is not only very well used but also has a significant impact on child health.

Referring to the maternity unit closure, she added: “We don’t think there would be value in further detailed consultation because we don’t feel there is much more that we could explore through a further consultation process.”

Anne-Marie Henshaw, director of midwifery at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said the demand for maternity services in the district had changed since 2019.

She explained: “We are not comparing like with like.

“In the period of time since (the unit) was suspended at Pontefract Hospital national guidance has changed.

“There has been a really strong focus on improving safety.

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“We know that maternity outcomes are best improved through post-natal and ante-natal care.

“We have a real focus as an organisation, despite significant staffing challenges and a fragile workforce, to make improvements to those parts of the service.

“The picture is not the same as it was in 2019. We have a different perspective and we have different decisions to make about our workforce and where we place people.”

Wakefield Council’s NHS overview and scrutiny committee will consider the decision at a meeting on Thursday (January 11).

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