'Some midwives are working too hard': NHS defends handling of Pontefract Hospital unit closure

The maternity unit will close from November 8 until September 2020.
The maternity unit will close from November 8 until September 2020.

The NHS trust responsible for Pontefract Hospital's maternity unit has defended the way it handled its sudden closure, folllowing criticism from councillors.

Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust announced on Wednesday that the Friarwood Birth Centre will be shut from the end of next week until September 2020, on safety grounds.

Councillor Betty Rhodes chairs Wakefield's health and scrutiny committee.

Councillor Betty Rhodes chairs Wakefield's health and scrutiny committee.

The trust's chief executive Martin Barkley said that the decision had been taken "with the greatest regret", but added that chronic staff shortages were leaving midwives overworked.

It followed remarks from Councillor Betty Rhodes, the chair of Wakefield's health scrutiny committee, who suggested on Thursday that the trust should have given councillors more notice of the decision.

Speaking at a committee meeting on Thursday, she said: "Nobody wants to see services closed, but what we want is to be in a position where the scrutiny committee should have been given a little more understanding of its role and the information we have to be offered.

"The safety situation I'm sure did not just happen yesterday (Wednesday) morning.

Martin Barkley, the chief executive of the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said the decision had been taken "with the greatest regret".

Martin Barkley, the chief executive of the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said the decision had been taken "with the greatest regret".

"I have a lot of concerns about that."

With mums-to-be who would have given birth at Pontefract now diverted to Pinderfields Hospital, Coun Rhodes added that the situation amounted to, "Robbing Peter to pay Paul".

The trust had hoped to recruit 23 newly qualified midwives this autumn, but only 15 ultimately decided to join.

Mr Barkley said that that fact, coupled with the resignations of other midwives already at the service in the last couple of weeks, led to the decision to close Friarwood being taken last Thursday.

All staff were then informed of the move before the news was made public.

He said: "We are responsible for the safety of, not just women who give birth, but our midwives as well.

"They're working hard but some of them are working too hard, and it's taking its toll.

"Crucially, we need to keep hold of the staff we've got. We've got 200 midwives working for us, and we need to look after them.

"This decision has not been taken lightly. It's been taken with the greatest regret, but of all the options we had, it was the least worst one."

Coun Rhodes said that the scrutiny committee may consider referring the decision to the Secretary of State for Health, but with Parliament in recess that cannot take place until well after the General Election on December 12.

Other councils elsewhere have successfully enlisted the government's help in overturning decisions to close maternity units, which have been taken against a backdrop of a nationwide shortage of midwives.

The trust strongly insists that the timing of the decision to close Friarwood this week was in no way linked to the election being called, with the move having been initiated behind closed doors five days before MPs voted to go to the polls.

Mr Barkley also said that the unit may reopen sooner than next September, if enough midwives are recruited to make it safe to do so.

Local Democracy Reporting Service