Weston MP John Penrose has sent a file of evidence to local health chiefs about maternity services in Weston-super-Mare, after being flooded with testimonies from local parents who wanted to have their babies at Weston hospital but were advised to choose Bristol instead.
Mr Penrose first wrote to the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) 2 weeks ago outlining local concerns about the question mark placed over Weston Hospital’s midwife-led maternity unit in the CCG’s recently-published long-term vision for local health care. He argued that many local parents want to use Weston’s service, but are discouraged because it has been progressively hollowed out so it is not equipped for even the most mundane birth complications. Since writing, his office has been inundated by messages from local Mums and Dads whose personal cases support his concerns.
In a covering letter with the file of evidence, Weston’s MP asks whether the NHS is using taxpayers’ money efficiently by putting the only two fully-equipped birth centres in the West of England just a few miles apart in Bristol, on expensive and crowded sites in teaching hospitals, and whether it would be more efficient to move more of the services to Weston. He also asks why it is fair to expect pregnant mums in North Somerset to travel so much further to give birth than their sisters in Bristol or South Gloucestershire.
John said: “The response I got from local parents after posting my original letter on social media was absolutely brilliant. Everyone thinks more mums should have their babies in Weston, not less.”
“Our local health chiefs have a duty to make taxpayers money go as far as possible, so they need evidence and facts to underpin their decisions. This file of personal testimonies should give them what they need to deliver the right services for Weston’s young families.”
A copy of the letter sent to Health Chiefs that preceded the document is copied below
Mrs Julia Ross
Chief Executive, BNSSG
NHS Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG)
Bristol BS1 3NX
You’ll remember I wrote to you a couple of weeks ago, expressing my concerns about the question mark over the level and type of maternity services in the Weston area. I shared a copy of the letter on Facebook and the response from local mums and dads was unprecedented; we now have a rich source of first-hand evidence of why so many families go to Bristol when they’re expecting a baby, rather than using our local maternity services instead. I have enclosed many of them on a separate page with this letter, so you can see them yourself, and am happy to provide a complete list if it would be helpful for you too.
To summarise, the comments support the ‘chicken and egg’ problem I outlined in my last letter to you. Most parents said that they’d love to have a baby in Weston but, understandably, would need to know that services to deal with common complications were available should they need them. And because Weston isn’t equipped to cope with these types of cases, most women opt to give birth in Bristol in case something unexpected happens. This means Weston’s maternity unit doesn’t handle enough births to justify the necessary investments in either staff or equipment to deal with more complex cases.
With this in mind, I’d be interested in your view of whether having both our fully-equipped birthing centres just a few miles apart from each other in Bristol is the best way to give taxpayers the most healthcare ‘bang for their buck’, or just an accident of history? Given your (excellent) vision of increasing the amount of relatively routine secondary treatments performed in Weston, so Bristol teaching hospitals can focus on the most complex and rarer challenges, plus the growing local populations in both Bristol and North Somerset, and the limits on space at BRI compared to Weston, have we considered whether it would be more efficient to add capacity for Weston to handle at least some of the more common complications, so more families want to use it? Or to start a third fully-equipped birth centre in Weston, or even to move one of the two existing centres from Bristol to Weston entirely instead? Finally, could you let me know if it is fair to expect pregnant mums to travel so much further to give birth if they live in North Somerset rather than north Bristol or South Gloucestershire?
As I said in my previous letter, I understand and agree that you need to base your conclusions on facts and evidence, which is why I have enclosed the first-hand comments and cases of local parents with this letter. They show that Weston’s maternity unit is trapped in a self-fulfilling downward spiral which doesn’t match either the overall strategic direction or the population changes outlined in your vision document. Could you please include the attached evidence in your assessments and analysis, plus let me know the answers to the questions about alternative approaches which I have outlined in this letter too? I look forward to your reply.
MP for Weston-super-Mare