Fears for future of our maternity unit as Hartlepool birth rate plummets

The University Hospital of Hartlepool
The University Hospital of Hartlepool

HOSPITAL campaigners have raised questions over the long-term future of Hartlepool’s maternity unit – and the hospital as a whole – after data revealed the number of children being born in town has plummeted in recent years.

There were just 165 babies born at the University Hospital of Hartlepool between summer 2013 and 2014.

Figures clearly show the Trust’s senior leadership have, and continue to, run down services at the University Hospital of Hartlepool

Councillor Jonathan Brash

Six years prior, before the consultant-led side of maternity at Hartlepool was centralised to Stockton by hospital bosses, the town unit had 1,009 youngsters delivered.

But the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust say they would like more mums-to-be who are classed as low risk to have their babies in Hartlepool.

The number of people as a whole passing through Hartlepool hospital has also fallen significantly since critical care, acute medicine, high risk surgery and linked support services were transferred to Stockton on clinical safety grounds in October 2013.

Coun Jonathan Brash, who tried to secure a town-wide referendum on a vote of no confidence in hospital trust leaders, said: “These figures point clearly to one conclusion, the Trust’s senior leadership have, and continue to, run down services at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.

“The figures around the number of births is staggering and it is clear that pretty soon Mr Garvin or Mr Foster will announce that the birthing unit is not viable and that it needs to close and no babies will be born in our town.

“Another step closer to the hospital being closed.”

Coun David Riddle, of Putting Hartlepool First, who tried to get the council to stop working with the Trust, said: “The small number of births in Hartlepool is a big concern.

“Hartlepool is being systematically wiped off the map and Hartlepudlians are now heading towards endangered species status.”

Coun Brash, who refers to himself as Independent Labour but is classed as Independent on the council’s website, added: “On mortality rates, whereas the average number of deaths has stayed the same in Hartlepool since the closure of A&E, they have jumped at North Tees, from 57 a year to 66 a year.”

Before the centralisation of critical care services, Hartlepool hospital saw 27,135 people come through the doors between April 2012 and March 2013.

But by last April and February this year, the figure was over 10,000 less at 16,198.

The information, and other data, were provided by the hospital trust to Hartlepool Borough Council after councillors raised questions and concerns at a full council meeting on February 16.

The council recently agreed to work with local commissioners, who pay for hospital services, on the development of a new health plan to improve services for Hartlepool residents.

The council also asked if more patients being seen at North Tees was a factor in the Trust recording some higher-than-expected death rates.

But the Trust replied that the overall numbers of deaths was among the lowest third in the country.

The Trust added by bringing emergency care all on one site, it had been able to provide more consultant cover.

Council leader Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “The information supplied by the Trust demonstrates the significant shift of services from Hartlepool to North Tees and this is something which we want to see quickly reversed so that Hartlepool residents can access all services on their doorstep rather than having to travel out of town.

“The data also demonstrates the need to have fully integrated health and social care services and this is something the council is totally committed to and is working towards.”

What the hospital trust says

Births

“The birth rate has shown a gradual decline across our whole area. There are fewer births at the midwife led birthing unit.

“The unit can only accept women whose pregnancies, labour and delivery are expected to be low risk.

“Some women who are classed as low risk choose to have their baby at the unit in the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton because they prefer to be where there is medical back up.

“We would like more women whose deliveries are classed as low risk to have their babies in the unit.

“We have brought in a new way of looking after women while they’re pregnant so they have greater continuity of care and we hope this will increase the numbers of women choosing to have their babies in the unit.”

Patient traffic through the hospitals

“Critical care, emergency medicine, high-risk surgery and the supporting services were brought together at the University Hospital of North Tees in October 2013.

“As expected this has results in far fewer patients being treated as inpatients in the University Hospital of Hartlepool.

“However, we are keen to provide as much care as possible locally and discussions are underway with our partners and the local authority to see what can safely be provided there.”

Mortality

“In December 2014, as with the rest of the country, we saw a considerable increase in deaths.

“Our ability to provide longer hours of doctor cover on one site is enabling us to provide quick diagnosis and treatment for the most vulnerable patients.”