Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign group to hold protest against continued closure of Midwife Led Birthing Centre

The Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign (SSTHC) group are to hold a protest against the continued closure of the hospital’s Midwife Led Birthing Centre (MLBC).

The unit has been closed since January and the group decided to hold the protest on Tuesday (June 14) over ongoing concerns about when it will reopen.

Staffing issues have previously forced South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust to suspend services, diverting mums-to-be to Sunderland, but the latest shutdown has prompted fears the temporary measure could become permanent.

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Roger Nettleship Chair of SSTHC said that: "It seems to us that the Trust, having closed our full maternity service, are now concerned about safety of the MLBC.

"In our view it is a necessity that a borough like South Tyneside needs access to a full maternity service at their hospital for this service to be safe and sustainable for the future.

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"We think the health authorities should re-open our MLBC, but they should also restore and sustain a full obstetric service at both hospitals without the need for ambulance transfers to back up the MLBC.

"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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Emma Lewell-Buck addresses a meeting about the continued closure of the birthing unit at South Tyneside District Hospital, alongside Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign group chairman Roger Nettleship.

The situation has also raised the concerns of South Shields MP, Emma Lewell-Buck, who’s planning on raising the ongoing closure with Health Minister Sajid Javid on the same day as the protest.

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Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “I will be raising this with the Health Secretary on Tuesday at the same time the protest is taking place. I fully support the protest and if I wasn’t in Parliament I would be there with them.

"The idea you can have your baby in South Tyneside but not have specialist consultation if something goes wrong and have to be rushed to Sunderland is not really a choice. It’s a big risk and is unsustainable.”

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A protest is to take place outside South Tyneside District Hospital due to concerns over the ongoing closure of the midwife led birthing unit.
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The group said the Trust have previously cited staffing issues and sickness, including Covid, as a reason for the temporary closure.

Mrs Lewell-Buck added: “I think the Trust intend to reopen but if they don’t have the staff then they can’t. Government cuts have inevitably had an impact on staffing which puts people’s health at risk.

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"We’ve already lost services to Sunderland and we don’t want to lose anymore.”

South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust have moved to reassure people about the longterm future of the centre.

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Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign group chair, Roger Nettleship.

Melanie Johnson, Executive Director of Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professionals, said: "We are working hard to reopen the MLBC. The reason why we had to suspend births is because of staffing pressures. When faced with situations like this we must always put the safety of women and children first. Whilst we are now seeing our staffing position improve, we are not quite there yet.

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“The MLBC remains a vital part of our maternity service and we look forward to supporting many more families to have their babies in South Tyneside in the near future."

The Trust added they will update people about the reopening as soon as details are confirmed.

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The midwife-led birthing centre at South Tyneside opened in 2019 to offer women with ‘low risk, problem-free pregnancies’ in what bosses say is a ‘home-from-home' environment.

Those who are assessed as having high-risk pregnancy; for example if they are expecting twins, if their baby is in the breach position, or if they have experienced complications in this or a previous pregnancy, are advised to give birth in the Trust’s consultant-led unit at Sunderland Royal Hospital.

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If complications do arise at South Tyneside, staff can contact the consultant-led unit at Sunderland Royal Hospital and mothers and their midwives can be transferred to the Wearside site by ambulance if necessary.