Maternity consultation 'met all statutory requirements' says Northern Health Trust

The Northern Health and Social Care Trust has said it is “confident that the process undertaken over a 14-week public consultation on the transformation of maternity services has met all statutory requirements”.
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The Trust was responding to a claim by campaign group SOS Causeway Hospital about “the nature of which the previous consultation was carried out” before a recommendation to transfer all hospital births in the area to Antrim.

A 14-week public consultation around the transformation was carried out by the Trust between November 2022 and March 2023, after clinicians advised the provision of maternity services at Causeway Hospital was unsustainable due to falling birth rates, workforce challenges and the absence of a neonatal unit.

The recommendation was approved by the Department of Health before the transfer took place on July 17 last year meaning births would no longer take place at Causeway Hospital in Coleraine.

Causeway Hospital. Pic supplied by Northern Health and Social Care TrustCauseway Hospital. Pic supplied by Northern Health and Social Care Trust
Causeway Hospital. Pic supplied by Northern Health and Social Care Trust

However, SOS Causeway Hospital has indicated 80 to 90 per cent of people who supported the campaign to retain births at Causeway Hospital and attended a protest in Coleraine last summer “knew absolutely nothing about that consultation” and described advertising as “very poor”.

Campaigners have stated there are those living in the Causeway area who would find transport to Antrim Hospital “challenging” and who have expressed concern over what to do in an emergency situation, particularly if a baby is coming “very quickly”.

The SOS Causeway Hospital group was given an update on maternity services by the Trust at a meeting on January 9. A six-month review is being carried out to complete a formal report into the first six months of operation of the new maternity services model.

Executive Team

Speaking at a meeting of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust last week , chief executive Jennifer Welsh indicated this will be brought to the Trust board, following consideration by the executive team.

The Department of Health has stipulated that given the “significant service change, the Trust should put monitoring arrangements in place to provide assurances that the consolidation has proceeded as planned and carry out a robust evaluation of the new arrangement six months after the change had been made”.

This is to include a review of the “expanded capacity” within Antrim Area Hospital and an assessment as to how the hospital is dealing with the increased number of births.

It must also address the numbers of babies born before arrival in Antrim Area Hospital from Causeway Hospital catchment postcodes; any instances where women have presented in labour at Causeway Hospital since the transfer as well as intervention rates for instrumental deliveries and caesarean sections.

A two-month review has been carried out in response to concerns from elected representatives, campaign groups and service users. It noted that during July 2023, there were 323 births in Antrim Hospital and 33 in Causeway and 321 in Antrim during August.

In July 2022, there were 241 births at Antrim Hospital and 71 at Causeway; 241 at Antrim Hospital in August 2022 and 74 in Causeway; September, 277, Antrim Hospital and 86, Causeway; October, 252 Antrim Hospital, and 83, Causeway; November 227, Antrim and 71, Causeway; December, 237 Antrim and 69, Causeway.

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During the two-month review period, three women have experienced birth before arrival to hospital (one set of twins and two single births). None was from a Causeway Hospital catchment postcode. There were 14 births before arrival in the Northern Trust in 2022 and 14 births before arrival in 2021.

The Trust has also reported that in July 2022, the percentage of births by caesarean section for both hospitals was 43; August 2022, 37; September 2022, 31; October 2022, 33; November 2022, 41 and December 2022, 25.

The Trust says NISRA figures suggest over the next 20 years, the number of births in the Causeway area will fall by 11%. There were 862 births at Causeway Hospital during 2022.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter