Councillors are to demand answers into the temporary suspension of births at South Tyneside District Hospital.
A meeting of the Joint Health Scrutiny Committee, made up of both South Tyneside and Sunderland councillors, will be held next week to discuss the shock suspension of the service.
The decision follows the temporary suspension last week of the hospital’s Special Care Baby Unit and the decision at the weekend to pause all births at the hospital until the New Year.
Coun Rob Dix, chairman of the Joint Health Scrutiny Committee, said: “We were not aware that there were such immediate staffing pressures at the Special Care Baby Unit and maternity and the sudden nature of these service suspensions has come as a surprise.
“While we are mindful that the safety of women and babies must take priority over everything else, the service suspension raises questions about how we came to this position so abruptly.
“Our residents are understandably very anxious about the current situation.
“While we do not provide the services at the hospital, we will be doing all we can to scrutinise the clinical decision with the hospital and the CCG and the events leading up to this.”
Earlier this year South Tyneside Council’s Cabinet called for the CCG to retain access to a Consultant-led Maternity Service as part of its official response to the NHS ‘Path to Excellence’ consultation.
They claimed that failure to do so would restrict patient choice.
Coun Tracey Dixon, lead member for independence and wellbeing, said: “We recognise that these decisions have been made in light of shortages of specialist staff, which is a national problem.
“However, we will also be asking how this situation has reached this critical level which has led to the sudden suspension of these valuable services.
“We will be calling for answers as a matter of urgency both now and in the future. “Going forward we will expect the CCG to bring forward solutions to address the viability of services in the long term.”
The call comes as one staff member says that staff have come together to produce a rota in a bid to keep the unit open.
But hospital bosses have said that it is not safe and sustainable to do so.
The midwidfe said: “Various departments offered to get together with Special Care to come up with a rota, working with neonatal nurses and midwifery staff.
“The various managers got together and created a workable rota which meant the unit could provide ongoing neonatal care at a safe level for patients.”
Derek Curry, Head of Midwifery at South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are continuing to work very closely with our staff to look at all possible solutions to try and resolve the severe staffing challenges we face in our Special Care Baby Unit.
“We have been absolutely clear, however, that any suggestions put forward must be safe and sustainable so that we do not end up in a similar crisis situation in the weeks ahead.
“This has been an extremely challenging and stressful time for the staff concerned who have shown tremendous amounts of goodwill and already been working heroically over and above the call of duty to keep services running safely.
“We have a duty of care to our staff, as well as our patients, to ensure we maintain a safe service and the health and wellbeing of our workforce is of equal concern to us.
“It is vital that whatever solutions are put forward can clearly demonstrate, to our regulators, that we are able to consistently meet nationally required safe staffing standards and whilst we welcome the passion and enthusiasm shown from our maternity team, unfortunately it is not as simple as plugging rota gaps with staff who may not be appropriately trained or experienced in specialist neonatal care.
“We will of course keep all stakeholders updated on this situation as soon as we are able to.”
Advice for pregnant women due to give birth before monday january 15
The Trust is currently contacting all 165 women who are due to give birth before Monday, January 15, to ensure that individual care plans are put in place during this urgent patient safety measure.
All antenatal and community midwifery services are running as usual in South Tyneside and are unaffected by this urgent suspension of births at the hospital.
Patients are asked to continue to attend their planned appointments as normal at South Tyneside District Hospital.
Any women who need urgent advice can contact the 24/7 midwife telephone advice service in South Tyneside on 0191 2024190.