Tuesday 14th June 2022

Protest against the continued closure of the midwife-led birthing unit at South Tyneside Hospital

SSTHC held a lunchtime protest outside the Harton Lane entrance of South Tyneside Hospital, against the continued closure of the midwife-led birthing unit at the hospital, which has been shut since January. The reasons given by the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust include: staffing issues, sickness and COVID. The chief executive said that the birthing unit cannot open until it is safe to do so.

Around 20 people took part in the protest, which also coincided with a question asked by Emma Lewell-Buck MP (South Shields) to the government in parliament. She said to the minister for health:

South Tyneside Hospital's maternity unit was award winning, and in 2019 despite widespread opposition, it changed to a midwife-led birthing centre. It has since been closed since January. Recently a whistle blower explained that midwives and expectant mums are being kept in the dark about the future of the unit, staffing levels and bed capacity across the Trust. These changes are a direct result of this government's forced cuts - so what is she going to do so that babies can be born in South Tyneside?

In her reply, the health minister reiterated the government's claim that they were investing nearly £200-million into the workforce there, but that in her particular area there were pressures around the omicron variant, with high levels of staff sickness that meant that Tyneside District Hospital had to make that difficult decision. She concluded by saying that my understanding is that sickness levels are much better, and if our MP was struggling to find out when they hope to reopen that unit, I am very happy to meet with her and with the Trust as well.

SSTHC is concerned that the people of South Tyneside were told that by downgrading their full maternity service at South Tyneside District Hospital in 2019, from a full service to a midwife-led birthing unit, that these services would now be safe and sustainable. The changes were part of the Path to Excellence programme, and during the consultation SSTHC had pointed out and predicted that downgrading our full maternity service, would lead to less safe and less sustainable maternity services for the people of South Tyneside.

The view of SSTHC is that it is a necessity that a borough like South Tyneside has access to a full maternity service at their hospital, and for this service to be safe and sustainable for the future. We think that the health authorities should reopen our midwife-led birthing unit, but they should also restore and sustain a full obstetric service at both hospitals (Sunderland and South Tyneside) without the need for ambulance transfers to back up the midwife-led unit. They should provide a safe service so that most mothers in South Tyneside have the choice to have their births in South Tyneside.


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