Staffing issues bring change to service at midwife unit

Staffing issues bring change to service at midwife unit

5 September 2018

THE Downe Hospital’s midwife-led maternity unit is to suspend its weekend evening on-call service due to staffing issues.

Health chiefs have this week confirmed that from this Friday evening the weekend service will be “temporarily unavailable” due to operational challenges as a result of staff vacancies at the Downpatrick hospital.

The South Eastern Trust says the midwifery team at the hospital have been “fantastic” in maintaining the 24/7 service, but it was not possible to continue with the current arrangements and existing staffing levels, resulting in the closure of the overnight service at weekends on a temporary basis.

Health officials insist while there will be no overnight service from 8pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, midwife services will be available as normal from 8am each day.

They say all expectant mothers will be advised of alternative arrangements when a birth cannot be facilitated in the baby unit.

“We would expect these temporary arrangements should have minimal impact on our expectant mums,” said a Trust spokeswoman. “We are continuing to pursue further midwifery recruitment and we are very hopeful that appointments will be made shortly.

“It is regretful that we have had to make a change to one of our services, particularly when we have made such excellent progress with a number of other services at the hospital.”

Trust officials say they will continue to “pursue opportunities” to increase its workforce and will also continue with their efforts to further develop the Downe Hospital on an ongoing basis.

South Down MLA Colin McGrath said it was “regretful” that there are recruitment difficulties at the midwife-led unit.

“While the numbers of births at the unit is low and I would love to see them increasing significantly, I know that the staff there provide a full range of additional and wrap-round services to mothers and babies in our area which is critical and saves much travel for local families,” he said.

“I take the South Eastern Trust at its word that it fully expects this to be a temporary problem and it has plans to overcome it by the end of the year.”

Mr McGrath is also encouraging expectant parents to continue to use the midwifery service as normal and hopes many more parents might consider using the Downpatrick facility “to help maintain this vibrant service in the Down area.”

In the wake of the temporary suspension of the evening on-call service, former South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has called on GPs across the district to refer expectant mums to the midwife-led unit.

“The service has been in existence for a number of years and it is important GPs in the Down and Mourne area provide potential mothers and pregnant women with the opportunity of using and having their babies there, provided there are no medical problems or difficulties,” she said.

“Having visited this unit promoted by the South Eastern Trust, I am aware that it is a first class birthing centre and many babies have been born there over the past number of years.”

She added: “I hope GPs in the Down and Mourne area will continue to promote the suitability of this unit at the Downe through their respective practices and health centres.”