The NHS in east Kent recently conducted a review of maternity services to see what changes and improvements we can make.
During a three-month public consultation we’ve been talking to parents-to-be, midwives, GPs, and other clinicians and have taken on board hundreds of views.
Our top priority in deciding on any changes has been making sure that women can give birth safely and have the best possible experience.
What we heard from lots of parents is that they prefer to give birth in a friendly and relaxed environment, but where help can easily be given in the unlikely event of a complication.
We already have this set-up at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford. Parents can choose a midwife-led unit to give birth, but can be quickly transferred to a consultant-led ward in the same building if, for example, they want extra pain relief or they experience a complication.
After a three-month review, taking into consideration parents’ views and all local and national evidence about best practice, we have decided to:
provide the same set up in the east of the county, by opening a new midwife-led unit at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate, which is next to the existing labour ward.
invest an additional £700,000 to employ around 16 midwives and more midwifery staff to staff the new Margate unit and increase staffing levels in Ashford.
stop births at Dover and Canterbury as birth have been declining steadily here for the past five years. All antenatal and postnatal day services will still be available at the Dover and Canterbury maternity centres.
Births at Canterbury have already stopped; births at Dover will stop after the new unit opens in Margate, hopefully in September. It is likely there will be a period where both the new midwife-led units in Margate and Dover will be open.
The reason for the review was that more women were choosing to give birth in Ashford while births at Dover and Canterbury had been declining.
Dr Sarah Montgomery, an east Kent GP who chaired the Maternity Services Review Group who made the recommendation to the NHS Kent and Medway Cluster Board, said: “In making our decision, we could not compromise on our guarantee to provide one-to-one care from a midwife in established labour for everybody – not just, as has been the case, low risk women in our standalone centres, but in particular those women at high risk of complications on our labour wards.
“After looking carefully at all the evidence we believe investing in maternity staff in Ashford and Margate and opening the new midwife-led Margate unit will ensure all mothers in east Kent have the best experience and continue to receive a safe, first class maternity care now and in the future.”
The public will be kept fully informed of all the changes and any mothers-to-be who wish to talk through their birth plan should contact their midwives.
Having listened to the views of parents during the consultation, EKHFT is also:
Improving its telephone support and advice to women from experienced midwives giving advice and reassurance to women in the final stages of their pregnancy about the onset of labour to reduce unnecessary trips to hospital
inviting partners to stay for 24 hours on postnatal wards. This is being piloted at QEQM hospital in Margate from 7 May and will be rolled out to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford by August
improving postnatal care through improved training for all midwifery staff on breastfeeding and skin-to-skin support to help establish the bond between mother and child in those first crucial hours
working with voluntary groups, such as SureStart children’s centres, to increase the levels of formalised support for mothers from other parents
reviewing its antenatal classes to ensure the same content and level of support is given right across the patch
producing an antenatal DVD for women and their partners as a supplement to the classes and also for parents who do not want to come to a class.
During the consultation more than 400 patients, parents, members of the public, community groups, midwives and GPs gave their views.
The results of the consultation showed that:
seven out of 10 people strongly agree or agree that maternity services in east Kent needed to change
eight out of 10 people strongly agree or agree the midwife-led unit at Margate should open
nine out of 10 people strongly agree or agree that midwife-led units on the same hospital site as consultant-led units offered the benefits of a home-like birth as well as rapid access to doctors
almost nine out of 10 people agree or strongly agree that the option selected needed to be affordable.