North Bristol NHS Trust decided to close the Crossham Birth Centre at Southmead Hospital in October 2018, after new measures introduced under the Saving Babies’ Lives programme led to an “unprecedented” rise in women requiring medical inductions.
The situation was compounded by a shortage of midwives at the trust, so managers opted to temporarily shut down the unit and transfer staff to Southmead.
However, the trust has now announced that the centre would partially re-open for births this autumn in the wake of a major recruitment drive.
As a result, the trust now has enough midwives to operate on an “open on arrival” model and offer a linked homebirth service from 21 October, it said a statement.
Under the plan, the existing homebirth staffing rota would offer women assessed as low risk the option of giving birth at home or at Crossham.
The trust said: “If a Crossham birth was appropriate the midwife would meet the woman at the birth centre.
“After the birth – at the agreed time post-delivery – the mum and baby would return home and the midwives in the homebirth team would then ensure it is ready for the next birth,” it said.
“We’ve always been committed to re-opening Crossham Birth Centre”
The centre is currently open during the day only for community midwifery clinics. The new system will operate 24-7 but the centre will remain closed at night unless a birth is taking place.
If the homebirth team are already dealing with a birth, then other mothers in labour would be offered Mendip Birth Centre as an alternative.
The trust said the new model and options available would be explained to women early on in their pregnancy.
When the centre re-opens for births this autumn, decisions about where women give birth will be made on a case by case basis subject to availability and eligibility, said the statement.
It said clinical leaders at the trust were continuing with a review of maternity services looking at how the centre, community, integrated and homebirth teams can best work together to provide a high quality service and continuity of care.
When the unit closed for births, managers cited implementation of Saving Babies’ Lives as a key factor.
Launched as part of efforts to halve the rate of stillbirths by 2025, it was rolled out nationally in July last year.
Under the programme, midwives are expected to implement a “care bundle” consisting of four evidence-based interventions, including ensuring robust risk assessment and monitoring.
An evaluation found stillbirths fell at trial sites but there was an increase in inductions, scans, emergency and elective caesareans.
The trust said the scheme had led to a “significant increase” in women being medically induced, requiring more complex and specialist care.
North Bristol Trust director of nursing and quality, Helen Blanchard, apologised to families who had been unable to use the unit but stressed safety had been a key consideration.
“We’ve always been committed to re-opening Crossham Birth Centre and we’re looking forward to offering, where we can, women the option of choosing to have their baby there,” she said.
“We’re sorry some women haven’t been able to give birth there these past few months, but this has always been about putting all of our services on a safe and sustainable footing for the long term.”