Health bosses have reiterated their long-term commitment to maternity services at Cheltenham and Stroud following the extension of temporary changes helping to safeguard patient safety during labour and birth.
Matt Holdaway, Chief Nurse at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS FT, repeated the Trust’s long-term commitment to the birthing unit at Cheltenham General Hospital (CGH) and the provision of postnatal beds at Stroud Maternity Unit (SMU).
The temporary closure of the Aveta Birth Unit at Cheltenham to labour and births as well as six postnatal beds at Stroud Maternity Unit will be extended until October 2023 when a further review will be undertaken.
The measures are necessary to ensure one-to-one midwifery care is given to women in labour and are in response to a national shortage of midwives.
“We want to reiterate our commitment to the future of both the birthing unit at CGH and postnatal beds at SMU. There are no long-term plans to close services at Cheltenham or Stroud,” he said.
“While the measures that we have taken are far from ideal, they have enabled us to deliver a safe service. The safety of all babies, women and birthing people remains the guiding principle behind these difficult decisions.”
Matt added: “It’s really important to reiterate what these temporary changes actually mean because a lot of people believe that maternity services in Cheltenham and Stroud are completely closed when that’s not the case.”
Under the temporary changes the Aveta Birthing Unit at CGH is closed to labour and births but open to all other services including planned antenatal care. At Stroud six postnatal care beds are temporary closed while the unit remains open for labour, new births and postnatal provision for six to 12 hours after birth. A full range of service provision is provided below.
“We strive to retain as much choice as possible for women and families within the difficult circumstances we are currently operating in and apologise to everyone who continues to be affected by the decisions we have had to make,” said Matt.
Despite making good progress in attracting and recruiting new midwives, retention remains incredibly challenging due to a combination of factors including staff leaving/being promoted, sickness and maternity leave. Current vacancy rates are 29.67 (March 2023).
Looking ahead to the longer term solution, Matt said: “We acknowledge that the longer our staffing challenges continue, the more it appears that getting the right staffing model for the birth centres and community rather than just waiting to be fully recruited is likely to be the key to opening services as quickly as possible. This has been the focus of the senior midwifery team throughout this period. The team has made good progress in engaging colleagues in developing new models of care. However, we are not yet in a position to reinstate either of the suspended services.”
Meanwhile plans to develop the Aveta Birthing Unit as part of a £2.7m refurbishment are a step closer with work likely to start in the autumn and be completed next spring (2024).
“The Trust has secured around £2.7m government funding which will be used to transform the birthing unit at Cheltenham into a purpose-built midwifery-led facility,” added Matt.
“This is an incredibly exciting development which will also help us attract and retain midwives. The unit will be relocated from the top to the ground floor of St Paul’s wing, improving accessibility and patient experience. It will have two birthing rooms, each with birthing pools, communal pantry with associated facilities and community midwives’ facilities,” said Matt.