Report warns new midwife-led unit ‘unviable’ unless births increase

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Health chiefs are warning a new midwife-led unit in Yorkshire will not be viable unless more women give birth there.

In a report published today, officials at NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) say initial trends indicate 200 women will give birth each year at the unit at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton which was controversially downgraded from a full maternity service in October.

They say the numbers are 100 below those required to make it “economically viable” in the long term, as work gets underway to market the unit to women expected to have low-risk deliveries.

In total, 290 women from the CCG area gave birth at the James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough between October and February, compared to only 79 in the same period 12 months before - up nearly four times. The report reveals the surge led to initial difficulties at the James Cook which was forced to close four times to expectant mothers.

Numbers from the area delivering at the Darlington Memorial Hospital in the five months to February also rose nearly four times to 39.

So far 10 women in labour have been transferred from the Friarage to Middlesbrough over concerns over their deliveries and seven have been transferred after labour. It said the transfer rate was “very low” and below that expected.

In four cases, transfers had been delayed - on one occasion for two hours - leading to changes in ambulance deployment in the Northallerton area.

The report said it was hoped that there would be a growth in numbers of births as confidence grew and the “reputation of the service strengthens” and there were indications numbers of births were increasing. Women asked about their experience of giving birth there were very positive about it, it said.

Around a fifth of those from the area delivering at the James Cook were low-risk births, who could have gone to the Friarage, it added.

“At present however, if the activity stays the same over the next six months, there would be 200 births per annum which is 100 short of the recommended 300 per year for the unit to be economically viable,” it said.

“Delivery activity data for the local population should be monitored on a regular basis to understand the choices local women are making and, if it is not the local service, to understand why.”