Childbirth's end for our maternity unit
THE battle to keep Dover's birthing centre open for mothers who want their children born in the town has been lost.
Live births at both Dover and Canterbury are expected to cease in September when a new £471,000 midwife-led unit in Margate is finally opened.
The decision, made by the NHS Kent and Medway Cluster Board on Wednesday last week, follows a three-month public consultation into maternity services led by NHS Kent and Medway and East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust (EKHFT).
Public views were gathered on three options to overhaul maternity services in east Kent. The preferred option was to end births at Dover and Canterbury, but keep postnatal and antenatal services, and open a new £471,000 unit at Thanet. The other two options were to close either Dover or Canterbury, while opening the Thanet unit.
The aim of the overhaul is to secure a higher ratio of midwives to births – one midwife for every 28 births – at Ashford and Margate hospitals.
Both sites have midwife-led units next to consultant-led wards, with rapid access to doctors in case of emergency and specialist neonatal intensive care on site.
Maternity Services Review Group chairman Dr Sarah Montgomery said: "What was clear from what we heard was that people agreed that we needed to change.
"They also agreed that the Margate unit should open and that mothers like the choice of having a midwife-led unit near a consultant-led unit as they could enjoy the benefits of a natural, calm and home-like birth with the reassurance of rapid access to doctors if need be.
"After looking carefully at all the evidence we believe investing in maternity staff in Ashford and Margate and opening the new midwife-led Margate unit will ensure all mothers in east Kent have the best experience and continue to receive safe and first class maternity care now and in the future."
But district and county councillor Nigel Collor said he is "disgusted" by the decision.
He added: "It was pointless having a consultation. They already had the unit mothballed at Thanet so why go through an expensive consultation process for what was already decided?"
Cllr Collor said mothers-to-be can still opt for home births and that he now expects progress to be made on the new hospital for Dover.
At a maternity roadshow in Dover last November, East Kent Hospital University Foundation Trust medical director Neil Martin said that there is £20 million in the coffers for the new build which would be spent on the hospital once the maternity consultation was finished.
He added: "By autumn next year the trust will be in a position to go out with a final business case for the Dover community hospital as agreed with the PCT."
Mr Collor said: "I expect them to update us on plans in the next few months."
His views were echoed by stalwart hospital campaigner Janet Pott.
Ms Pott, 59, said: "We have all these consultations that do not make any difference except to delay things. It's a disappointment.
"I will now be watching to see if they keep their word about work now starting on the new Dover hospital."
The NHS has pledged to invest more than £700,000 over the next year to employ 30 midwives and midwifery staff at Ashford and Margate.
The Margate centre is to open in September.
EKHFT says it will also improve telephone support, let partners stay on postnatal wards for 24 hours; improve postnatal care; review the content of antenatal classes; and recruit new midwives.
Community teams will still be based at Canterbury and Dover for prenatal and postnatal services.