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By Ian Dipple Thursday 19 June 2014 Updated: 19/06 14:59
A STAFFING crisis is likely to lead to births being restricted at the Alexandra Hospital.
Safety fears have forced bosses at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust to consider the move as a temporary measure, which could be introduced as early as July or August.
A shortage of specialist neonatal nurses - caused by a combination of retirements, maternity leave and difficulties recruiting due to a national shortage - means shifts cannot be properly staffed, particularly over the summer.
If implemented it would mean women who are less than 37 weeks pregnant, as well as high risk and multiple births, would have to deliver at the Worcestershire Royal instead of the Alex.
Women who are less than 34 weeks pregnant are already cared for in Worcester.
About one woman a day, or 300 over the course of a year, at risk of delivering early would be affected.
Women who do deliver at 37 weeks or above would still do so at the Alex and if their babies require specialist care it will still be provided on site.
Alternatives to the restriction are still being explored including additional training for nursing and medical staff and an attempt to find long-term agency neonatal nurses to cover regular shifts, but they are unlikely to fill the gap.
The decision has been taken by NHS England, the Trust and Redditch and Bromsgrove Clinical Commissioning Group which was first told about the situation two weeks ago.
The Trust has been warning since the hospital review was launched in 2012 there were issues with the sustainability of certain services, including paediatrics.
Simon Hairsnape, chief officer for Redditch and Bromsgrove CCG, told the Standard the decision was purely on clinical safety grounds and was not pre-empting the outcome of the hospital review.
"We can't take the clinical risk of having very poorly babies born at the Alex and being transferred to Worcester at just a few hours old."
Redditch Borough council leader Bill Hartnett said he was shocked and hugely disappointed by the decision.
"While safety clearly comes first it cannot be used as a cloak to cut services at the Alex. I will be seeking a cast iron guarantee and assurances, if this goes ahead, there is an action plan in place with a date to restore this valuable service."
Neal Stote, chairman of the Save the Alex Campaign, called it the beginning of the end for consultant-led deliveries in Redditch.
"I understand and agree patient safety must come first, but I do not believe for one second that all has been done to solve this staffing crisis."
Redditch MP Karen Lumley added if the service was unsafe she would support the move but emphasised it must be temporary.
"I want assurances new staff are being found and to ensure mums-to-be in Redditch get the service they deserve."
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