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Betrayal of a woman’s right to choose? Norfolk hospital says it can not provide midwives for home births

PUBLISHED: 07:00 06 February 2014 | UPDATED: 09:45 06 February 2014

Jean Stevens. Picture: Ian Burt

Jean Stevens. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2014

Women who choose to have their babies at home face paying £3,000 for a private midwife, after a hospital said it can not provide midwives for home births.

Jean Stevens. Picture: Ian Burt Jean Stevens. Picture: Ian Burt

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn has suspended its home birth service for six months, because of a shortage of midwives.

Its director of nursing said it had taken the decision in the interests of “patient safety”.

But a childbirth charity said the move “flew in the face” of a woman’s right to choose where she gave birth.

Pregnant mums are faced with paying up to £3,000 for a private midwife to attend if they want their baby to be delivered at home.

Jean Stevens, 30, of High Road, Elm, and her husband, Nick, are having to dig into their savings to find the money.

Mrs Stevens, who is expecting a baby girl next month, wanted to have a home birth as she successfully gave birth to son Jenson at home 16 months ago.

But she was told by her midwife that her birthing plan had to be changed as the home birth service had been suspended.

“I am so upset and angry I am having to use my savings to pay for the birth I want,” said Mrs Stevens.

“I really feel for other mums who want to have a home birth, but just haven’t got the money to pay. It is just so wrong.”

Mrs Stevens said that when she gave birth to her first child at home, she received one-to-one midwife care throughout.

She said: “She just observed and was there for me and if there were to be any complications the hospital would of been quickly contacted.

“To me, this feels natural, comfortable and less stressful to have my baby at home and my son can be involved too.”

Mrs Stevens has written to the supervisor of midwives at the hospital, calling for the suspension to be lifted, and her MP Steve Barclay.

Cathryn Remmington, 32, of Scholars Way, Upwell, desperately wanted to have a home birth with her second child.

She missed out three years ago, with the birth of her son Logan, because the midwife could not come out in thick snow in Essex, where she was living at the time. Fortunately, she lived within walking distance of a hospital.

Mrs Remmington’s hopes of having at home for this pregnancy were dashed when she was told that this was not possible.

Mrs Remmington said: “I was told at my booking appointment that it would be fine to have a home birth. Then in December, my consultant then told me that the service had been suspended - I was gutted.”

Mrs Remmington had enlisted the support of natural childbirth charity Birthrights and a solicitor to challenge the ruling and get the service re-instated.

But with her baby’s due date fast approaching, she has been forced to bite the bullet and plans to have her baby delivered at Peterborough City Hospital.

A spokesperson for the charity said that the mothers-to-be were left “devastated” by the change.

“The ongoing suspension flies in the face of national maternity policy and women’s legal entitlement to make choices about their births,” she added.

Mrs Remmington, who is expecting a baby girl in March, and runs baby sensory groups across East Anglia, said: “It is a human right that I should be able to have my baby at home. In hospital it feels that you’re on a conveyor belt and I don’t want to catch infections such as MRSA.

“Even though I am now having to give birth at Peterborough City Hospital, I will still campaign for other mums so that they have the choice where to give birth.”

Catherine Morgan, director of nursing and patient experience at the QEH, said it did not have enough midwives to meet the needs of both community and hospital midwife services.

She said: “We are very sorry that we have had to suspend our home birth service because we do not have sufficient midwives currently to safely meet the needs of both community and hospital maternity services.

“Our aim is that all parents are able to choose where the birth of their child takes place. However, we must always ensure the safety and quality of care of our mothers and babies comes first.

“Therefore we have taken the decision to suspend the home birth service for six months to concentrate all our resources on providing safe care in the hospital setting.

“We have had to make this difficult decision in the interests of patient safety. We plan to review the situation after this time.”

During the first six months of last year, 1,197 women gave birth at the QEH - 30 of them chose to give birth at home.

In October watchdogs placed the hospital in “special measures” over a number of concerns including low staffing.

In January 2013, both the QEH and Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said they were looking at ways to expand their maternity services after it emerged that women in labour had been turned away because maternity wards were full.

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