A new midwife-led birthing unit is due to open in South Shields from August 5, replacing the former Special Care Baby Unit at the site.
And while the changes have prompted fears of expectant mothers being rushed to specialists at other hospitals if complications arise, bosses have claimed it could improve care.
“People think having a baby at a unit with doctors is safer than at a unit without doctors, but if you’re a low risk woman you’re better off having that baby in a midwife-led unit,” said Dr David Hambleton, chief executive of South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
“If there are doctors about they like to interfere, for very good reasons they think ‘this isn’t progressing very well so I will just do this’ and there will be an intervention.
“That means that woman and child are having something done to them that isn’t necessary.”
Dr Hambleton was recalling advice received from maternity experts during the process to develop the new unit at yesterday’s (Thursday, July 25) meeting of the CCG’s governing body.
He added the ‘trick’ was careful selection of mums-to-be recommended to use the unit and careful monitoring during labour.
Guidance issued by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) in 2014 said midwife-led units are ‘safer than hospital care for women having a straightforward, low risk, pregnancy’.
Changes to pediatric care are also due to come into effect from next month, with the children’s emergency department at South Tyneside District Hospital closing every night at 10pm and reopening the following morning at 8am.
Matt Brown, the CCG’s director of operations, said: “In February 2018 we made decisions about stroke, maternity, pediatric and obstetric care.
“Over the last 18 months there’s been a series of scrutiny processes, we were referred to the Secretary of State for Health and in December (2018) there was a judicial review to assess the legality of the process which found we had done more than necessary to be lawful.
“From August 5 we will be implementing the next series of changes in maternity and pediatric care.”