On the heels of the RCOG’s statement in favour of out-of-hospital-birth (a run down from midwife Lisa Barrett of what the statement says can be found here), birth choice in County Durham, ironically, seems to have evaporated. It’s a disturbing situation that’s left expectant parents with a mountain of uncertainties and few acceptable choices – in particular troubling for those who have chosen out-of-hospital birth for reasons of safety.
So what’s happening?
Not long ago, word went out that the one and only Midwifery Led Unit in the area would be temporarily closing due to staff shortages (the MLU is scheduled to re-open on 5 September). This was apparently the decision of the midwives working there who felt that the low levels of staff created unsafe conditions for birthing mothers and their babies. Puzzlingly, at least to outsiders, at the same time, the Supervisor of Midwives began informing mothers that home births were also being suspended in this period, effectively eliminating any and all NHS options for out of hospital birth.
Enquiring with AIMS about the legalities of the suspension of services brought the following information to light:
“These are two very separate issues.
Closure of the MLU is a service provision issue that they can make decision about and about which you may need to get up an assertive campaign in order to address.
In a similar way their provision of a specific homebirth service may be withdrawn, however, homebirth can’t be refuse on this basis.
If a women makes the decision to birth her baby at home she cannot be forced to go into hospital. The Trust still have a continuing obligation to provide maternity care and midwives have a duty of care under the NMC regulations…”
A local mother wrote to the Head of Midwifery about her concerns and her wish to have her planned home birth supported. The response she received was very promising:
“Since reaching the very difficult decision to suspend intrapartum care at the Midwifery-led Unit and the homebirth service we have been looking at ways of supporting the small number of home births we have booked as this has caused a great deal of concern and upset for the women affected. With a great deal of support from the midwifery team we have agreed that we can provide an on-call service to cover the small number of home births we have planned. I need to emphasise that this has been made possible by the desire by midwives to support women as much as possible to achieve their choices for childbirth and I am supporting them in every way I can.” (emphasis added)
Clearly, from this letter, midwives want to be doing their job and supporting birthing mothers at home and in hospital. This mother’s birth was supported. Unhappily, however, I’ve recently received news from another local mother that she has also been informed that home births in County Durham have been suspended. She, also, is working to try to obtain support for her home birth which has been booked since February. I know of other mothers, as well, who are negotiating in an attempt to have previously booked home births honoured.
Perhaps even more worrying is that apparently some mothers are now being informed that, with the MLU closed and homebirths suspended, the Durham hospital is struggling to keep up with demand and may now need to redirect labouring women to other area hospitals – which means that labouring women may find themselves with unexpectedly longer car journeys.
Local concerned parents have formed a Facebook group to communicate about what is going on and a number of them are planning to attend tomorrow’s MSLC meeting at the Children’s Centre in Stanley. They encourage others to attend, saying:
“Co Durham have cancelled support for homebirths. Government policy says every woman should have a choice of birthing centre, homebirth and hospital, as there is no birthing centre in our area cancelling homebirths takes away any choice. This meeting is an opportunity to come and show your support for homebirths and ultimately to stand up for a womans right to choose where she gives birth. Creche places are available but are limited and need to be booked in advance, ring Surestart on 01207 232048 to book. Please invite anyone who this may affect or who you feel may want to come along and have their say. It’s important we use these meetings to have our voices heard and ensure maternity services meet the individual needs of women.”
What else can you do?
I’m really thinking of all those expectant mothers out there – those that were planning to birth at home, in the MLU or in hospital who are affected by this situation. It’s an upsetting situation all around – and really, it’s not about choice, but the safety of mothers and babies in all these settings – the closures don’t seem from the outside to be improving safety, at least as far as I can see.
I’m hoping for a swift and happy resolution all around.