• Fear over future of Honiton’s maternity service as births drop

    27th January 2013 | News | Claire
  • The meeting, on Thursday 24 January, which focused on health services, was attended by three local GPs as well as NHS Devon’s head of locality commissioning, Tamara Powderley.

    I asked whether local mums could be given assurances that the maternity service at Honiton was secure, following a major campaign to retain overnight stays in 2010.

    Worryingly, between 2006 and 2011, the number of mums opting to give birth at Honiton Hospital have declined steadily, from 171 to 103.

    By contrast, births at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, have soared from 2,899 to 3,697 in the same period.

    The RD&E took over maternity services from NHS Devon in early 2010 and promptly closed Honiton Hospital to overnight stays, citing staff shortages as the reason.

    A major campaign was then launched to retain overnight stays and NHS Devon’s board agreed in October 2010, to allow overnight stays to be reinstated, if there was a clinical need, such as help needed with breast-feeding, for example.

    Midwifery assistants, who were required to run the overnight service at Honiton, Tiverton and Okehampton Hospitals, are believed to have all been in post since September 2011.

    And NHS staff promised former campaigners, including retired GP, Dr John Ackroyd, Alison Kettlewell, and myself, that they would issue a joint press release and start promoting the service, to ensure it was well-used.

    But despite repeated reminders over the months, no press release has ever been issued. 

    And at a meeting I attended in July last year, RD&E staff were unable to confirm that the option of giving birth and staying overnight at Honiton Hospital, was being routinely promoted to mums by midwives.

    At this July meeting it was agreed once again, that a press release would be issued – but nothing happened, despite a number of reminders during the following months.

    It is estimated by NHS Devon that around 30 per cent of the births that are taking place at the RD&E could be appropriately be delivered in community units like Honiton Hospital maternity unit.

    But clearly this is not happening.

    Given the huge response from mums to the campaign to save overnight maternity services in 2010, I cannot believe that mums simply do not want to give birth at Honiton.  Hundreds, if not thousands of mums all over East Devon were angry and upset at the loss of what they saw as a sanctuary in the chaotic hours and days after giving birth. 

    The care was described as second to none and breast-feeding rates were recognised as being among the best in the country.

    As a mum who stayed at Honiton Hospital after the birth of my daughter in 2003 I identified clearly with that description.

    An oft-used reason for closing or centralising a service is that it is underused. 

    As a result of the unreasonable delay in promoting overnight stays at Honiton Hospital, I have come to the conclusion that maternity services at Honiton Hospital may be at risk.

    At the overview and scrutiny meeting last week, Ms Powderley promised to look into the issue and I was contacted on Friday (25 January) by NHS Devon. 

    But I remain concerned that the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital Foundation NHS Trust, which runs the service, is not fully committed to maternity provision at Honiton Hospital.