Next steps in maternity services plan approved

11 April 2013

NHS plans to improve maternity services across north east London took a step forward today when the go ahead was given to close the labour ward at King George Hospital.

NHS North East London and the City made the decision, which is part of a wide ranging programme to improve maternity services across north east London, at its latest board meeting.

The changes will mean that all local women get the safe, high-quality service they deserve at all local hospitals.

Women with more complex births will be able to deliver their babies more safely as specialist services will be concentrated in fewer centres with more senior doctor cover.

For lower risk pregnancies, the NHS has also opened new midwife-led birthing centres in Barking and Queen’s Hospital Romford which provide additional choice and capacity for where women give birth.

At the same time, birthing capacity has increased at Newham and Homerton Hospitals.

It is expected that the changes will take place from 18 March. King George will still provide pre and post natal services but women will no longer be able to give birth there.

The decision is supported by local GPs and independent experts as part of an assurance process designed to ensure that no changes are made to services until they have been assessed as safe for patients.

External assurance was provided by a team of experts who visited local hospitals affected by the changes, met with staff and reviewed the plans.  The NHS London medical and nursing directors have also reviewed our preparations to make these service changes and have confirmed that they are satisfied that we are ready to proceed.

Local GPs in clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are part of a local assurance board that will continue to make sure that local maternity services offer safe, high quality care for women.

Alwen Williams, Chief Executive of NHS North East London and the City, said:

“We are making changes to maternity services so that all local women get the safe, high-quality service they deserve at all local hospitals. 

“We have put care at the heart of these changes and we have only made the decision to move forward with the change to maternity services at King George Hospital once local clinicians and the external experts have confirmed that it is safe to do so.

“The changes that we are putting in place are working. Recently the CQC released a report that showed that maternity care at BHRUT had improved greatly bringing it up to standard.”

Dr Atul Aggarwal, chair of Havering CCG, which is the commissioning lead for BHRUT on behalf of Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge CCGs, said:

“This decision should help ensure that no maternity unit is ever too busy to provide top-quality care to women and babies.

”In the past few months we’ve seen the opening of the Barking Birthing Centre and the Queen’s Birth Centre, providing more choice of birth setting for women with low-risk pregnancies.

“We have also increased the number of babies that can be born at Newham and Homerton hospitals. Further expansion of Whipps Cross and the Royal London will continue to provide more capacity in the future.

“As GPs take over the commissioning of care locally, we want to develop better services. Our vision for King George Hospital is being further developed. We want to see a centre of excellence that will include the following: around the clock urgent care centre, new GP and children’s services, rehabilitation, along with ante-natal and post-natal care for women and their babies.”

The local NHS is publishing a guide to help local women and their families understand the changes and improvements to maternity services this will be available from GP surgeries across north east London from mid March.

Background to the decision

The decision to move forward with the shift of maternity deliveries from King George Hospital is part of plans to improve maternity care right across this part of London.

The aim of these plans is to make sure all women get a safe, high quality service that meets their needs, before, during and after their pregnancies at all local hospitals.

The plans for maternity services were part of an extensive consultation – known as Health for north east London – in 2009/10. On the basis of comments received, clinicians amended their recommendations to include a new midwifery-led unit at Queen’s alongside the hospital’s labour ward and expanded midwifery-led units at other local hospitals.

Decisions were made by the joint committees of primary care trusts on 15 December 2010. An independent reconfiguration panel (IRP) reviewed the plans in 2011 and found that proposals will enable the provision of safe, sustainable and accessible services and offer real benefits in terms of clinical and service quality.  On the basis of the independent advice, the Secretary of State for Health supported the plans in full.

Overall, the changes will ensure that there is enough capacity across north east London to meet demand and enable choice both now and in the future. As far as possible, local women should be able to have the type of birth they want – be that at home, in a midwife-led unit or on a hospital ward.

As part of the plan to improve maternity services:

1. Queen’s Birth Centre, a co-located midwife led unit, opened early this year providing more choice and capacity for local women
2. Barking Birthing Centre opened at Barking Community Hospital late last year
3. The catchment area for Barking Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust has reduced. The number of births there will not exceed 8,000 births a year (up to 7500 births from outer north east London, up to 500 Essex births). 
4. For women living in south Barking, their main maternity provider is now Newham University Hospital.  If they are low-risk, they can choose to give birth at the new Barking Birthing Centre.
5. For women living in north-west Redbridge, their main maternity provider is now Whipps Cross Hospital. 
6. Homerton Hospital is now the main maternity provider for women living in southern Waltham Forest.