Health chiefs in South Tyneside have admitted they are in the dark as to when the borough’s maternity and special care baby units will reopen, following their shock closure late last year.
They say they are still in the process of tackling the staff shortages which led to South Tyneside District Hospital’s Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) closing in late November.
The decision led the suspension of births at the hospital’s maternity unit
South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust, which operates hospital services, says it is still reviewing staffing issues that, it says, forced the shutdowns.
Dr Sean Fenwick, director of operations at the trust, said: “We are continuing to work through detailed plans in relation to the staffing shortages we face in our Special Care Baby Unit and are currently reviewing the staffing position as we committed to do.
“As soon as we do have a clear update on the likely next steps for SCBU and any subsequent impact for maternity services, then we will communicate this first and foremost with our staff and of course with local pregnant women and other stakeholders.
“In the meantime, if local pregnant women have any queries or concerns they should contact their community midwife in the usual way or call our 24/7 midwife-led telephone advice service in South Tyneside.”
The closure of the SCBU was described at the time by the trust as being due to “extreme staffing pressures”.
Unable to accommodate high-risk births, urgent safety protocols were put in place to support a small number of low-risk deliveries.
The trust then moved to close the maternity unit after seeking specialist advice from independent medical experts.
Its decision meant new arrangements had to be made at other hospitals for the 165 women who were booked in to deliver at South Tyneside up until January 15.
In the last few months of 2017, the SCBU had consistently been unable to open more than four cots due to ongoing staffing pressures.
The 24/7 midwife-led telephone advice service in South Tyneside can be contacted on 0191 202 4190.