Passionate supporters of St Mary’s Birth Centre in Melton made their feelings known to health authority officials last night (Thursday) during a debate about proposals to close it.
Dozens of people attended the public engagement event organised at the borough council offices to promote plans for a major reorganisation of hospital services across Leicestershire and Rutland.
Leading members of the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust (UHL) and the East Leicestershire and Rutland Clinical Commissioning Group (ELRCCG) explained that reorganisation was needed to give patients more efficient and cost-effective care.
One of the proposals is to close the Melton birth centre and consolidate maternity services at hospitals in Leicester so more people across the county can use them.
The meeting was told that there were 131 births at the centre last year and a report states that there should be at least 500 to make it viable.
But attendees at last night’s event said the unit was not promoted enough by the health authority to make more mums use it and that it was unfair to expect women to travel 20 miles to have their babies.
The quality of post-natal after-care at the birth centre was praised by several mums, who said it was vital in helping them breast feed and care for their new child.
Melton borough councillor Alan Pearson told the meeting that it would be difficult for mums to get to maternity services in Leicester because of the distance and heavy traffic.
He also referred to plans to build more than 6,000 new homes in the borough over the next 20 years.
“I am really concerned about these plans to close the birth centre because we are an increasing population and we are isolated as a rural town,” he said.
“There is actually a lot of research which says that decentralising services is better than centralising them as you seem to be doing.”
A mum, who didn’t give her name, told officials: “I only found out by word of mouth that I could go to the birth centre for after-care.
“I spent three days there learning how to breast feed.
“The services there are absolutely excellent but not enough people know about it so it can’t be marketed very well.”
Deputy Mayor of Melton, Councillor Tom Greenow, told the meeting that he had seen members of birth centre staff shaking their heads in disagreement when officials had described how widely they had marketed the unit.
He said: “Six weeks ago I had the privilege of becoming a father and we used the after-care services at the birth centre.
“My wife and our child were 100 per cent better off at the Melton unit where the services were worlds away from those at Leicester.”
Sue Lock, managing director of Leicester City CCG, said no definite decision had been made about closing the Melton birth centre and that a full public consultation would be held into the plans.
She told the meeting: “This will be a fair process when decisions are eventually made.
“This is about listening to people’s views but we also have to take into account clinical evidence when we do decide what to do.”
Elaine Broughton, head of midwifery for UHL, argued that the birth centre had been marketed extensively but that it was still underused.
“It is a referral centre for women without risk factors and there is no medical or neo-natal support which limits the number of women we can refer to it,” she said.
“We are trying to encourage more women to use it.
“We will be taking on board people’s views about the after-care services so we can put something in place if the birth centre is closed.”
The proposals would see a new £88million maternity hospital built at the Leicester Royal Infirmary (LRI) and the potential for a standalone midwife-led birth unit at the Leicester General.
Health officials say Melton mums would also be able to use a recently-launched home birth team staffed by 18 midwives, as well as the planned new Leicester facilities.
The health authority is currently bidding for £367million funding to pay for new buildings, such as a new children’s hospital and maternity hospital at the LRI and a £138million treatment centre at Glenfield Hospital, which would increase its capacity by one-third.
Some non-acute health services would continue at the Leicester General Hospital, including the diabetes centre of excellence, GP access imaging hub and stroke rehabilitation.
The health authority believe consolidating services at fewer sites will be better value for money and a more efficient use of clinical staff.