The maternity unit at Solihull Hospital will be closed to all births for three months in the spring of this year.
Mothers-to be across Solihull will have to travel up to 18 miles away to give birth for between eight and 12 weeks – much longer than initially thought – as officials work to train staff on new procedures.
Sorraya Richards, spokeswoman for Heart of England Foundation Trust, in charge of the hospital, insisted it was only a “temporary” measure and the maternity wards will reopen.
“Solihull maternity unit will close down temporarily for up to 12 weeks from the first week of April.” said Ms Richards.
“This is due to a request from our midwives who wanted time to retrain and visit other midwife led units.
“All women about to give birth at that time have been contacted and asked to choose where they want to give birth – at Heartlands, in Bordesley Green, Good Hope in Sutton Coldfield, or even Warwick.”
She added that post natal and pre-natal checks would still take place in Solihull at all times
Members of the public quizzed representatives of Solihull NHS Care Trust and Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust at a board meeting on January 27, two weeks after Heart of England announced it would move ahead with controversial plans to downgrade the borough’s maternity unit prior to a planned public consultation.
Health chiefs announced the maternity ward would be closed on a temporary basis – dubbed a “pause” by officials – to allow for staff retraining for a midwife-led service dealing only with low-risk births.
Premature and high-risk births which would require on-hand paediatricians will instead be sent to the neonatal unit at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital.
At the Solihull Care Trust board meeting it emerged the unit could be closed for as long as three months from April, until the training has been completed and staff feel confident enough to work independently.
Expectant mums will be given the option to give birth at Heartlands or Good Hope Hospitals, while the gynaecology unit at Heartlands will be transferred to Solihull to create space for extra deliveries.
In a statement read by chairman Jenni Ord, the board of Solihull Care Trust expressed its “disappointment” over the plans and lamented the short timescale involved, which it feared has not enabled the public to fully understand the reasons behind the changes.
She read: “The Care Trust Board acknowledges that HEFT have exercised their right as an organisation to make unilateral decisions about the service model and future provision where they believe that otherwise they would be carrying an unacceptable level of risk.
“However, the Board is disappointed that HEFT is unable to sustain the existing risk mitigation arrangements for a longer period that would allow a formal public consultation to take place on the future options for the service.”
The Board has requested more details surrounding the risk levels of the interim arrangements and “to be assured that making the proposed changes in services does not create a higher level of risk elsewhere”.
It is also to seek legal advice regarding its responsibilities under the Corporate Manslaughter Act concerning the existing and interim arrangements.
More than 7,200 locals have joined a campaign group set up on social networking site Facebook entitled “Save Solihull’s Maternity Services”, set up prospective Conservative MP Maggie Throup.
She, Meriden MP Caroline Spelman and Solihull MP Lorely Burt all raised questions over the effects the changes would have on local mums and staff.
It emerged only managerial staff had been consulted over the proposed changes and concerns were raised over the extra pressure that could be put on community midwives under the new system.
Patrick Moore, SCT’s medical director said the hospital had followed an “unusual model of care” for years, which no longer complied with recommended best practice regarding the resuscitation of newborns.
Three “significant clinical events” including the death of one baby in 2003 had raised concern and a subsequent review noted the current service was “stretched to its limit at Solihull in terms of safe provision for current capacity and demand”.
Pim Allen, HEFT’s chief medical director for women and children said the interim closure was “purely and simply on the basis of safety”, adding: “We need to be absolutely confident that staff are fully competent and confident to provide the new service.”