At a public meeting held today in Portrush, the Board of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust approved a recommendation that all hospital births should take place at Antrim Hospital.
The recommendation was made following a 14-week public consultation on a future model for acute maternity services, which commenced in late November last year.
Clinicians have advised the Trust that the current provision of maternity services at Causeway Hospital is unsustainable because of falling birth rates, workforce challenges and the absence of neonatal special care baby unit facilities at the hospital. The workforce challenges reflect the wider problem of attracting specialist clinicians to smaller hospital sites
The consultation presented the Trust’s two ‘clinically deliverable’ options. Both options proposed the transfer of all obstetric consultant-led births from Causeway Hospital to Antrim, with retention and enhancement of early pregnancy assessment units, antenatal and postnatal clinics and scheduled ambulatory services on Causeway site.
One of the options suggested the possibility of establishing a freestanding midwifery-led unit at Causeway Hospital. This option cannot proceed at the current time ahead of the completion of a Department of Health led review that includes service provision at such units. Given the extreme fragility of maternity services in the Northern Trust, the midwifery-led unit option has therefore been discounted at the present time and will be kept under review pending the outcome of this DoH led review. It has therefore been concluded that the only viable option at this point is the transfer of all births to Antrim Hospital.
Speaking after the Trust Board Meeting, Dr Dave Watkins, Medical Director at the Northern Trust said:
“We have always been clear about the reasons why change is required. Serious concerns continue to be raised by clinicians in relation to the safety and sustainability of the Trust’s current model of maternity services and we cannot ignore those.
“Our ultimate aim is to have a new-build Women and Children’s Unit on the Antrim Hospital site. This will provide high-quality, purpose-built accommodation for maternity and paediatric services. However, it is subject to business case approval and funding availability and is unlikely to be commissioned for service before 2027/28 at the earliest.
“So we urgently need an interim solution that will address the challenges.
“The public consultation allowed us to explain the need for change and to present for consideration what we believe were the only two clinically deliverable options. Hopefully we have achieved that but we also acknowledge that change is never easy and we understand the very real concerns that many people have and which have been well reflected throughout the consultation period.
“In recommending the transfer of all hospital births to Antrim, that does not prevent us revisiting the possibility of setting up a midwifery-led unit in the Trust at some point in the future, should the outcome of the Department’s review offer that flexibility.”
The Trust recommendation will now be assessed by the Department of Health in line with its policy and guidance on change or withdrawal of service.