Northampton General Hospital halts home births as staff shortages lead to safety concerns

Maternity clinicians say sickness, covid isolation and vacancies forced temporary suspension

By Kevin Nicholls
Friday, 1st April 2022, 9:10 am

Clinicians say staff shortages are behind a decision to temporarily suspend the home birth service at Northampton General Hospital from Friday (April 1).

The hospital confirmed it is contacting all expectant mothers booked in for a home birth in the next two months and issued a statement saying: “We are truly sorry for the disappointment this will have caused.

But it added: “This difficult but necessary decision has been made to ensure that safe staffing levels continue to be maintained within the maternity unit.”

Northampton General Hospital has temporarily halted its home birth service due to staff shortages

Senior midwifery staff and obstetric clinicians and the executive team at NGH made the decision to temporarily halt the home birth service.

The hospital added: “We are experiencing some staff shortages in the maternity department as a result of staff sickness, Covid isolation and vacancies, which means we are unable to currently operate the home birth service.

"These challenges are not unique to NGH, as many maternity units across the country are experiencing similar pressures.

“We understand that this may be disappointing for those women who were planning on having a home delivery over the next few months, but safety is our priority and we are committed to providing a safe service and birth experience for all women.”

Local midwives took to the streets in Northampton town centre in November highlighting what they said was a growing crisis in maternity services.

Organisers of the March with Midwives say many are being driven out of the NHS by understaffing.

The Royal College of Midwives recently called out the government’s record on maternity funding.

They claim England has a chronic shortage of over 2000 midwives and the situation is deteriorating with midwife numbers falling month on month, worsened further by pandemic related staff sickness and absences.

Birte Harlev-Lam, Executive Director, Midwife at the RCM said: “Staff are working even harder and then harder again to continue delivering the safest possible care.

"They can only do this for so long before they and the system relying upon those efforts breaks.”

Home birth services were disrupted at up to 20 NHS Trusts due to staff shortages at the end of 2021.

University Hospitals of Derby and Burton’s home birth service has been “temporarily suspended” since last August.

Latest NHS England data showed the number of full-time equivalent maternity staff dropped to 22,172 in January – a fall of 353 on the previous year and the largest annual decrease since records began in 2009, according to analysis by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).

NGH says that all mums-to-be women who are booked in for a home birth before the end of May have been offered appointments with a midwifery matron and the option of delivering their baby in the hospital’s birth centre.

A spokesman said: “We will continue to support these women throughout their pregnancies and again we are truly sorry for the disappointment this decision will have caused.

“We will reopen our Home Birth Service as soon as we are able. We’d like to thank you everyone for their understanding and support, especially our Maternity Voice Partnership.”