£3.7m midwifery unit planned at Antrim Area Hospital

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A £3.7m three-bed midwifery-led unit has been proposed for Antrim Hospital, the Northern Health and Social Care Trust board has been told.

Plans for an interim facility alongside the existing provision were outlined to members at last month’s board meeting. In March, the Northern Health and Social Care Trust board approved the recommendation that all hospital births in the Northern Trust area should take place at Antrim Hospital with provision at Causeway Hospital “unsustainable”.

The recommendation followed a 14-week public consultation on the future of maternity services in the region and approved by the Department of Health in June. Members were advised this approval was subject to “the development of an alongside interim three-bedded Midwife-led Unit on the Antrim site to offer additional capacity in advance of the new-build women and children’s unit planned for 2027/28″.

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It is anticipated the new midwife-led unit should be operational by end of June 2025. As well as three birthing suites, two must include a birthing pool. There will also be a clinical assessment room and utility rooms.

Antrim Hospital. Pic: Northern Health and Spocial Care TrustAntrim Hospital. Pic: Northern Health and Spocial Care Trust
Antrim Hospital. Pic: Northern Health and Spocial Care Trust

Board members heard the new unit would “bring the Northern Trust into line with other Trust areas” with women “having a choice of obstetric-led or midwifery-led care and deliver improvements in safety in relation to clinical outcomes for women assessed as low risk”.

A report stated it would “provide fit for purpose, quality accommodation for the midwifery team to meet the additional capacity requirements following the transfer of all consultant-led births from Causeway to Antrim and meet the Maternity Strategy 2012-2018 in respect of providing a midwife-led unit adjacent to consultant led services”.

Business Case

A spokesperson for the Trust said: “The board of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust has approved a business case for an Alongside Midwife-Led Unit (AMU) at Antrim Area Hospital.

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“The development of the three-suite unit at Antrim was a commitment made by the Trust to the Permanent Secretary, Peter May, when he approved the recommendation of the Trust Board to consolidate all hospital births at Antrim Area Hospital earlier this year. The aim is that the AMU should be operational at the site by June 2025. It is expected to cost around £3.7million.

“The AMU will offer women the choice of midwife-led care alongside the obstetric and consultant-led services which are already in place at Antrim’s maternity unit.”

Clinicians have advised the Trust that provision of maternity services at Causeway Hospital in Coleraine was “unsustainable because of falling birth rates, workforce challenges and the absence of neonatal special care baby unit facilities at the hospital”.

Births switched to Antrim Hospital in July. Some pregnant women who are assessed as “low risk”in the Causeway area will still be able to have a home birth.

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One of the options presented in the consultation was the possibility of a stand-alone midwifery-led unit at Causeway Hospital. However, the Trust indicated this option could not proceed at the time ahead of the completion of a Department of Health (DoH) review that includes service provision at such units.

“Given the extreme fragility of maternity services in the Northern Trust, the midwifery-led unit option has therefore been discounted at the present time and will be kept under review pending the outcome of this DoH led review,” the Trust said at the time.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter