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Norfolk hospital chiefs aim to improve maternity services to meet rising birthrate challenge

PUBLISHED: 15:11 14 January 2013 | UPDATED: 15:11 14 January 2013

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital maternity ward.

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital maternity ward.


Health chiefs said they were looking at ways to expand their maternity services after it emerged that women in labour were turned away from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital last year.

EDP assistant editor David Powles recalls his and his wife’s recent experience of the maternity services at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

The call which changed my life as I once knew it came at shortly before 4pm on 12/12/12.

Five days earlier than expected, my wife Kim was well into labour and I needed to get home, sharpish.

And it was just two hours later we decided the time had come to get to hospital and hopefully bring our son or daughter into the world.

My own amateurish attempts at going through breathing techniques, back massages and timing contractions (which any fellow hypno-birther will know have to be called surges) would no longer suffice.

But there was one problem.

Our preferred option was to attend the midwifery-led birthing unit (MLBU) at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital – but it was full.

It’s one of two main options at the hospital, unless of course complications leave you facing none other than what is required.

There’s the delivery suite, made up of 12 en-suite rooms and one water birth pool, or the MLBU, a birthing suite that attempts to provide a “home-from-home” environment for women with uncomplicated pregnancies and under the care of midwives.

It wasn’t that we were adverse to the delivery suite, just that we’d heard only good things about the MLBU and the midwives there.

The only problem being that there’s only four rooms – and because people generally have positive experience of it, word spreads and more mum’s-to-be want to end up there.

So while only a small percentage of pregnant women are being made to go elsewhere because the maternity service as a whole is full to capacity, there must be dozens more unable to access their number one option – and for such an important moment in people’s lives that’s a crying shame.

Therein lies the biggest problem that seems to face the maternity service as a whole at the hospital – it’s fantastic but there just isn’t enough of it.

That includes not just MLBU and delivery suites, but also the midwives themselves, who are brilliant, caring, cheerful and stoic, but all too clearly rushed off their feet.

New figures show that an increase in babies being born in Norfolk is putting a strain on maternity services in the county, which forced the N&N to close its maternity ward 15 times last year and 34 women were diverted to other hospitals.

Pregnant women were told to go to hospitals up to 40 miles away to have their babies after the maternity ward was closed to new admissions.

Figures from a Freedom of Information (FoI) request submitted by the EDP also show that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn closed its maternity ward 14 times in 2012 because it was full to capacity.

Officials from both hospitals said they were investigating ways to increase capacity by recruiting more midwives and expanding maternity wards after experiencing a year-on-year rise in births.

The James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston and West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds experienced no maternity ward closures over the last three years.

Officials from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said 6,352 babies were born at the hospital last year compared to 4,929 in 2003. The hospital currently has 31 maternity beds, 12 delivery suite beds and four rooms at its midwifery-led birthing unit, which celebrated its first anniversary in September.

A spokesman for the N&N said only a “small” number of women in labour were unable to access their maternity services.

“In 2011 we opened the midwifery-led birthing unit which increased our delivery capacity by four beds. We have submitted a proposal to increase our number of birthing rooms, this will be dependent on Department of Health funding.”

“We have recently recruited an additional 5.7 whole time equivalent midwives. We are reviewing maternity services to look at longer term needs of the service and we expect to further increase staffing levels dependent on this,” the spokesman said.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which delivered 2,564 babies last year, has 25 beds at its maternity ward and 13 rooms in the central delivery suite. However, officials hope to follow in the footsteps of Norfolk’s other acute hospitals to build a midwifery-led birthing unit in the future.

Gwyneth Wilson, director of patient experience, said the maternity ward would only be closed as a last resort.

“Midwifery staffing levels are reviewed regularly to ensure they are sufficient for the number of babies being born here. There has been a year-on-year increase in births here over the past seven years and we have increased the number of midwives in response to this. We are currently looking to create a midwife-led birth unit, which will give us additional birthing rooms,” she said.

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