Surge in births closes maternity unit

MARK NICHOLLS The maternity unit at Norfolk's biggest hospital has been forced to close to new admissions twice within the last few days after a huge surge in births.


The maternity unit at Norfolk's biggest hospital has been forced to close to new admissions twice within the last few days after a huge surge in births.

On one of the days, the delivery suite at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital reported 28 births compared to the average of 14 a day.

The N&N also says that there have been a number of complex births that have left taken up more midwifery staff time.

The unit was closed in the early hours of Wednesday morning between 12.15-1.30am, but no women were forced to go elsewhere.

One mother, who gave birth to a boy early on Wednesday morning, was sent home within hours to make way for more expectant mums.

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She said: “I was happy to go home and felt fine and my baby was well but the unit was extremely busy. They did not have any beds, they were full up and one lady had to give birth in a side room because there was nowhere else to go. At one stage the maternity unit was closed. We got a room okay, they rushed us straight into a birthing room.

“The midwives are brilliant but they are rushing about, they have so much work to do but there are just not enough of them.”

N&N head of communications Andrew Stronach said: “It's been an exceptionally busy week combined with some complex births. On Sunday our midwives delivered 28 babies over a 24-hour period and the delivery suite was on restricted admission from 7.30am to 1pm because it was full. No women were transferred to other units. On Wednesday the delivery suite was again on restricted admission between 12.15am and 1.30am again because it was full.”

Judi Roper, from the Royal College of Midwives at the N&N, said: “The reason why the unit closes is usually through sheer capacity. On one day there were 28 births, which can lead to huge problems.

“The unit was built for about 5,000 births a year and we are going over that.

“The decision to close the unit is never taken lightly and only when it is just not safe for any more women to come in.”

In 2006 there were 5,355 births compared to 5,129 in 2005 and 4,491 in 2002 but against this rising birth rate, N&N staff say they have been concerned about a shortage of midwives for some time.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King's Lynn and the West Suffolk Hospital at Bury St Edmunds were taking in mums as normal but the neo-natal until at Ipswich Hospital was so busy that one mum had to be turned away and sent to another hospital in the eastern region.

The James Paget University Hospital at Gorleston was not affected either. Head of midwifery services Carol Mutton said that if there were any closure problems at other units, they would be notified and be on standby to accept women to deliver their babies.

t Nursery and midwifery students at UEA are set to voice their concerns to the authorities on Friday over plans to cut lecturers jobs.

Plans to reduce the number of training places at the schools for the next two academic years because NHS funding shortfalls mean the number of jobs available will remain at the same level since 2003. As a result, about 19 redundancies are expected within the department.

Staff are considering strike action and the result of a ballot could be known later on Thursday.

Meanwhile students fear their studies will be hit by the plans to cut lecturers posts and will support their tutors in any industrial action.

Andrew Blakesley, chairman of the Nursing and Midwifery Student Council at UEA, said: “We believe this will have a detrimental effect on students because there are not going to be enough lecturers.

“We are going to lose 19 full time equivalent lecturers and the seconded lecturers are not going to be renewed either. A lot of students are deeply concerned about the level of support they will get.”

Mr Blakesley, a student learning disabilities nurse, said there are concerns over marking of assignments, preparation for tutorials or that students will actually cover as much theory as required by the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Royal College of Nursing.

“The long term effect will be that the quality of nurses going into the caring professions will not be as high because these highly-qualified lectures will not be there to pass on their knowledge.

“On Friday, we will be voicing our concerns at the UEA and if the lecturers take industrial action we will support them because they have been so supportive of us.”