Tyne & Wear

South Tyneside birthing unit user numbers 'lower than planned'

South Tyneside District Hospital entrance sign
Image caption The unit was opened as part of reforms opposed by many people in South Tyneside

Health chiefs said the number of people choosing to use a new midwife-led birthing unit has been "lower than planned".

The facility at South Tyneside District Hospital was introduced in August to replace its consultant-led Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU).

It was billed as being safer for mothers-to-be, but bosses have said they need to do more to promote it.

Campaigners called the closure of the SCBU a "downgrading" of local services.

Changes to birthing services in South Tyneside and Sunderland were introduced as part of the controversial Path to Excellence reforms, which also covered stroke and paediatric care.

They saw all "high-risk" deliveries admitted to a consultant-run department at Sunderland Royal Hospital.

'Hotel experience'

"There's a lot of reluctance from mums who have previously relied on a consultant-led service, so it's important for us to sell the midwife-led unit as an experience for families," said Vicky Mitchell, of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundations Trust.

"They can bring their whole families with them if they want and they can have visiting 24/7. We've tried to make it more like a hotel experience."

Ms Mitchell was speaking at a meeting of Sunderland City Council's Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

Image copyright Save South Tyneside Hospital
Image caption Protesters conducted several marches after the shake-up was announced in 2017

A report for the panel added the service was still "in its infancy", but it was not thought patients were "actively choosing to give birth at other locations" such as Gateshead or Newcastle.

According to the latest figures, there were 49 births at the midwife-led unit in August, September and October.

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