St Mary’s Birth Centre in Melton could be closed to save money, the health authority has confirmed this afternoon.
The University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust says staff and resources are not being used effectively with 10,500 babies born every year at six locations in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.
The trust is proposing to close Melton’s birth centre because only 170 babies are born there annually and there would need to be 350 to 500 births every year to make it sustainable.
Plans for reorganisation would see all babies born on one site - the Leicester Royal Infirmary (LRI) - and the authority will consider establishing a standalone midwifery birth centre but this is likely to be at the Leicester General Hospital.
Ian Scudamore, consultant obstetrician at the trust, said: “With around 10,500 babies born locally in six locations, our staff and resources are not being used effectively.
“This configuration can put pressure on services in one or more locations at any particular time – it is also not equitable for all mums and their families.
“These issues have been recognised in a number of reviews of our maternity services which have consistently said that in their current form they are unsustainable.
“So our priority is ensuring that future maternity services are of high quality, provide choice, are fairly available to all women and affordable with the money we have available to us.”
Mr Scudamore said doctors, midwives, nurses and patient representatives had put together plans for the future of maternity services in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland based on what parents had told them and to ensure that services are safe and sustainable for the future.
A major part of the programme, he said, would be the closure of St Mary’s Birth Centre at Melton.
The trust, which says 168 babies are expected to be born at the centre this year, says the vast majority of women choose to have their babies at either the LRI or Leicester General Hospital.
The authority say it is unsustainable as a resource because it has been under-utilised for a number of years, with births at the unit dropping, and it is also not in a central location within Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland for the majority of the region’s population.
If the centre is closed women from the Melton borough would instead have to travel to LRI to have their babies in a combined care unit with in-patient maternity service provided by midwives and doctors and they would have access to a neonatal intensive care unit in the case of emergencies.
The infirmary would also house a midwife-only birth centre near to the combined care unit and home births would continue to be supported by midwives.
Mr Scudamore added: “In our plans we are proposing that the hospital-based elements of the women’s service, including gynaecology, neonatal care and maternity will all be available at one site – the Royal Infirmary. “Some outpatient appointments and procedures will continue to be available, or even increase in community hospitals, and midwives will continue to provide antenatal and postnatal care in the community.
“However, subject to public consultation, we would like to consider whether we provide a standalone midwifery birth centre away from the Royal Infirmary site.
“If, after consultation a standalone birth centre is to be provided then it will need to be available to as many women in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland as possible and have sufficient activity to be financially sustainable. This will require 350-500 births per year. The most likely location for such a unit would be the Leicester General Hospital site.”
The trust has no plans to make anyone from the St Mary’s Birth Centre redundant. It says it may need to employ more doctors and midwives to run what will be ‘a bigger, more complex service’.
Reports have indicated that the proposals are aimed at saving £400 million from the trust’s budget.