MPs urge government action to tackle crisis that’s keeping birth centre shut

KINGSWOOD’S MP has called on the government to take action to reopen the maternity centre at Cossham Hospital, which has been closed for 18 months.

Damien Egan has written to Health Secretary Victoria Atkins calling on her to provide “certainty” on when the Cossham Birth Centre will reopen its doors to expectant mothers – and to take action on the staffing crisis in NHS midwifery which is keeping it closed.

The midwife-led centre at the hospital in Lodge Road was set up to provide a “home from home environment with birthing pools, aromatherapy, massage and a focus on active birth”.

North Bristol NHS Trust, which runs the centre, announced in October 2022 that it was “temporarily suspending” services, citing “workforce challenges due to sickness and vacancies”.

Last summer the trust said the suspension would remain in place until the spring of this year, but it was “committed to providing maternity care from the site”.

Since the start of this year, the Voice has been asking the trust whether it has been able to set a date for reopening the centre, but it has been unable to confirm one.

The suspension follows previous closures between October 2018 and 2019, and December 2021 to January 2022.
Mr Egan and neighbouring MP Kerry McCarthy, whose Bristol East constituency includes the hospital site, have sent a joint letter to the Health Secretary.

They said: “Unfortunately we have been told the unit is not in a position to reopen, as the trust is still facing difficulties with midwife recruitment and retention.”

The MPs say the issue has been raised repeatedly with Ms Atkins and her predecessors.

They said: “Since the refurbished birth centre re-opened 11 years ago, it has been forced to close its doors for over two and a half years due to workforce challenges. It is not right that following a multi-million refurbishment, the centre has been forced to close its doors for more than a quarter of the time since.

“Expectant parents are being forced to travel many miles further to the nearest birth centre and would like certainty when Cossham Birth Centre might re-open.”

The MPs said the high turnover and shortage of midwives was “putting staff, mothers and babies at risk”, adding: “As Secretary of State will you do everything you can to address the workforce challenges within maternity services in the NHS?

“We would also be grateful if you could provide any certainty of when the Birth Centre might expect to re-open its doors, so that it can once again serve the people of Bristol and South Gloucestershire.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are aiming to increase the number of nursing and midwifery training places to around 58,000 by 2031/32 through the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, which is backed by over £2.4 billion in government funding.

“We have invested £165 million a year since 2021 to improve maternity and neonatal care.

“This will rise to £186 million a year in April, improving the quality of care for mothers and babies and increasing the number of midwifery posts available.”

North Bristol NHS Trust continues to run appointments, breastfeeding support and other services from Cossham, as well as a midwife-led centre at Southmead Hospital and a home birth service.