Equality for all women in Devon

Maternity choices need to be the same for everyone, says NHS

EQUALITY for women across Devon is at the root of proposed changes to maternity services, a public meeting in Honiton heard today (Saturday).

No money is to be cut from NHS maternity budgets in the county, but health chiefs want to ensure all women are given the same, increased choices.

Sally Foxhall, a non-executive director of NHS Devon, jointly chaired the consultation event with Honiton’s deputy mayor, Councillor Vernon Whitlock.

She told the meeting: “I am on the side of women and midwives. I want to sit and listen, and set the context so that you have the correct information that we want you to understand.”

Dr Virginia Pearson, the director of public health in Devon, explained: “We are not cutting funding to maternity services and we are not closing Honiton’s maternity unit.

“We want to ensure breastfeeding support is available 24 hours a day.”

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Dr Pearson, a former GP, explained changes have not already been made to services at Honiton Community Hospital. However, staff shortages had meant a temporary closure of the in-patient post-natal service.

The aim of proposals, she said, was to offer more choice, more support, increase rates of breastfeeding, strengthen homes services and to make better use of midwives’ time.

Midwives’ caseloads are currently too high and NHS Devon is concerned that maternity units, such as the one in Honiton, can sometimes be empty while remaining fully staffed.

The primary care trust wants to reduce midwives’ caseloads and allow them to work in the community on a 24-hour basis, when needed. This will mean mothers will be sent home the same day that they give birth, unless there is a clinical need.

Changes, said Dr Pearson, could be implemented by shifting the way midwifery teams currently work and strengthening the way birthing centres are used.

Those with clinical needs would stay in hospital, but at Exeter.

More midwives would be available when they are needed most, the meeting heard.

Tracey Reeves, head of midwifery and the deputy director of nursing at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, said resources are currently targeted at manning 24-hour birthing units while there were new mums at home in need of support.

She said NHS Devon wants a flexible workforce, but be able to guarantee expectant mothers the birthing experience of their choice – be it in hospital at Honiton or Exeter, or in their own homes.

NHS Devon wants to see more babies born at home and at Honiton Community Hospital, the meeting heard.

More on the public meeting is on this website.