Stroud loves its Maternity Unit. Everywhere I go around town I am inundated with people wanting to tell me their SMU birth story, or their story of being transferred there after a hospital birth and ‘put back together’. The district’s women experience the care they receive in our birth unit as healing, as loving, as a time of them feeling worthy of care. The post-natal beds helped women to be empowered, families to be formed, relationships to be nurtured, new dads to be guided, babies to be given their best chance. The ripple effect of a good few days post birth goes forward for generations.
For the people who have benefitted from extra days of rest and recovery after birth the postnatal ward matters. They are saddened by the idea that families do not now receive the same treatment as them. They think of it as a ‘lifesaver’ and do not know how they would have coped without it. If women had the post natal beds for their first birth and are not having them second or third time around they feel distressed and uncertain, two emotions no new mother should have to endure more than necessary.
I now hear from women who are desperately tired. Getting dressed and travelling back to the unit for fleeting clinics and check-ups takes energy, resources and stamina they just do not have. The already stretched midwives are having to be creative and work doubly hard to get people on the right track for recovery and feeding.
This week, the organisation Mothers Offering Breastfeeding Support was honoured by Mayor Stella Parkes in the Town Council’s Annual Awards. Since the bed closures volunteer run MOBs is now overloaded with tiny babies who are hours old. The community has had to rally to plug the gaps that are left by the empty postnatal ward.
The reason the beds are closed is because of problems with retention and recruitment really taking hold across the county, at the same time as rigorous new expectations around staffing ratios for birthing women have been rolled out nationwide. It is no longer possible for Midwifery Care Assistants to be in sole care of women, a midwife must be present for the duration of a woman’s stay. Although safety is always at the forefront we do not want this to become an excuse for cutting down women’s choices and over medicalising birth care.
We Stroud Maternity Matters campaigners have been meeting regularly with the wonderful midwives at the Unit and have come to understand that the obstacle is not one that can be overcome easily or internally. We have turned to our MP Siobhan Baillie to speak with the people high up at the NHS Trust to explain what a detrimental affect the closures are having and to see if the staffing structures can be renewed in way that will prevent this disruption from happening again. We continue to push for sustainable and renewed staffing models that give the beds the priority they deserve.
The public passion for the unit is having an effect. The heavily attended rally, our nearly 7,000-strong petition and all the letter writing of residents has not gone unnoticed. The signal that we value our midwives’ work and will not allow a back door closure of the unit is loud and clear.
Meanwhile, the unit is positive and still so special. They are open for births and the midwives are running antenatal and postnatal clinics, as well as their usual set of home visits. We must continue to use the facility and be glad of what we do still have intact, at the same time as never giving up the fight to reinstate the six postnatal beds that shape Stroud District’s future in more ways than can ever be measured on a spreadsheet.
Please see the Gloucestershire Royal and Cheltenham General Hospitals website for more information: www.gloshospitals.nhs.uk/about-us/news-media/press-releases-statements/maternity-services-update-may-2023
To share how the closures have or will affect you: email@example.com
To talk to the team at Stroud Maternity Unit regarding your birth or your babies’ needs: 0300 421 8018
Chair of Stroud Maternity Matters