Save South Tyneside Hospital group stage protest over continued closure of birthing unit as South Shields MP raises issue in Parliament
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The Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign (SSTHC), who have the backing of South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck, say it is a crucial necessity the borough has access to a full maternity service, and are urging health chiefs to ensure the birthing centre to reopen as soon as possible.
The unit closed in January after staffing issues forced South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust to suspend services, meaning mums-to-be are instead being diverted to Sunderland.
The group arranged the protest to coincide with South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck raising the issue in Parliament with Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
Roger Nettleship, chair of SSTHC, said: “Over the years we’ve been fighting to save hospital services and one of them is the full maternity unit.
"People in South Tyneside think we should have a full maternity service and now we’ve only got a midwife led service. We think the people of South Tyneside deserve this service. It’s a basic health service that should be available to everyone locally.
“Emma sent us a message today saying the fight goes on and she thinks the same as us that we should have a full maternity service. She’s raising the question with the minister for health as we protest here today.”
The group said the Trust had previously cited staffing issues and sickness, including Covid, as a reason for the temporary closure.
In a statement issued supporting the campaigners, Ms Lewell-Buck MP said: “This Government has presided over repeated cuts to our NHS.
"We have seen our hospital services stripped away bit by bit. The birthing centre at South Tyneside has now been closed since January.
"There are concerns amongst staff and constituents regarding its re-opening. The Ministers response was to talk about the money they are putting into the workforce and to blame covid.
"This money wont help re-open our birthing centre and the Government need to stop blaming everything on covid, they depleted the workforce and imposed cuts long before the pandemic took hold. Expectant mams deserve a choice. I don’t want to see a situation where no more babies are born in South Tyneside, it’s a shame the Government don’t feel the same.”
South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust have moved to reassure people about the longterm future of the centre.
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.
“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.