A gasp echoed around Oswestry’s town council chamber as news of a six-month closure of maternity services was revealed.
Health bosses agreed to suspend deliveries and post-natal care at the midwife-led unit (MLU) at the Orthopaedic Hospital at Gobowen, and those in Bridgnorth and Ludlow, for between three and six months from July 1.
They say it will “remove uncertainty” about whether the MLU is open or closed following a series of short-term suspensions in recent months and give time to provide a long-term solution.
But it will mean women during that time will have to give birth at Shrewsbury or Wrekin MLUs or the consultant-led unit at the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford.
The proposal was announced just hours before town councillors met on Wednesday and was met with shock as members broke with protocol and voted unanimously to back a protest march which will take place on Sunday, July 9, departing the Bailey Head at 10.30am.
A simultaneous march will set off from Gobowen railway station at 11am and meet the other march at the MLU shortly before noon.
Giving his support, Mayor of Oswestry, Councillor Vince Hunt, said he has asked Simon Wright, chief executive of SaTH (Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals) Trust), for clarification over why there is such a high staff sickess and what is being done to combat that, or whether it is a way of closing the unit.
He added: “I want to know what’s going on. I absolutely want local maternity services and I absolutely understand the need for having those services here. But there are issues which need some explanation.”
Councillor Paul Milner described the news as “disappointing” following assurances that services at the MLU were safe, adding: “It is a major blow for families living in Oswestry and the surrounding area,” while Councillor Peter Cherrington said: “It’s absolutely disgraceful. To me it’s just ridiculous and we need to stand firm.”
The report says births at MLUs has fallen from 26 per cent in 2008/09 to 13.1 per cent in 2016/17 – with Oswestry making up 1.1 per cent of that figure.
However, Save Oswestry Maternity Unit campaigner Liz Grayston says there has been a bigger decrease at Shrewsbury MLU.
She continued: “Historically the unit in Oswestry has always been between one and two per cent which is what you would expect when you look at the population, so it’s no shock horror.
“What they haven’t given us are the figures for post-natal care.”
The ongoing suspension is due to a combination of short and long-term sickness, a fall in midwives prepared to work overtime and a fall in temporary bank staff, with Thursday’s board report saying the proposals are being put forward on safety grounds.
Deirdre Fowler, Director of Nursing, Midwifery and Quality at SaTH, said: “We recognise the significant impact that this may have on some of the women we care for about their planned place of birth and we are sorry for this. We have taken into account the many comments received regarding short-notice closures and recognise that the women we care for need assurance about their place of birth.”
The suspension will be reviewed in three months time.