I am dismayed to see that the 6 postnatal beds in Stroud are due to stay closed until October.
Stroud Maternity Hospital (SMH) is an essential part of our local NHS services. Giving birth locally enables women to be closer to their homes and loved ones, at this unique and special time. Having a baby in midwife-led units like Stroud actually leads to lower intervention rates during birth. In addition, there is good evidence that women and babies do much better with well-structured inpatient postnatal care.
That’s why we need those postnatal beds open, and last autumn’s March for Midwives showed just how important SMH is to local people.
The problem is a basically a lack of midwives. The NHS is currently running with a vacancy rate of 1/3 – worse than in January. There are now 29 vacancies for midwives across Gloucestershire. It’s the same in my GP surgery, in district nursing in Stroud and in many other services.
Running with this level of vacancies is unsustainable, and has to be addressed urgently. We must firstly retain more midwives by providing better pay and conditions to stop things getting worse, but we must also train more staff to begin to fill the gaps – not only midwives, but also nurses, doctors and support staff.
The Trust have reassured me there are absolutely no plans to close the unit. This is not like when they threatened to close the whole unit in 2006 and we fought to keep it open – and won. It’s a different situation.
I have pushed the Trust to try and come up with a different model of care, one that would be less dependent on midwife numbers, so that the beds can be reopened. We, as a health community in Stroud, could support Stroud Maternity to reopen fully. Doctors and nurses are happy and willing to work with the Trust, local midwives, health visitors and Stroud Maternity Matters to get Stroud Maternity back on its feet.
We cannot wait until October. Women and families deserve better in Stroud.
Finally, it’s really important to understand that women can still book themselves into Stroud maternity for giving birth. Please ask your midwife or GP about this option if you are pregnant. I am working hard on this so that by the time your baby is born, the postnatal beds will be back, and you can spend a few days recovering in our local unit.
This week I’m hoping to set up meetings with local midwives and the Trust. Let’s sort this out for Stroud. I am optimistic that by working together we can get these beds back open and make SMH the vibrant, lovely place it always was.
Dr Simon Opher
Prospective parliamentary candidate, Stroud Labour Party