Bosses at the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust were forced to halt births at South Tyneside District Hospital in January 2022, which they said was due to the continued impact of Covid-19 and ‘significant staffing challenges’.
Mums-to-be were instead diverted to Sunderland Royal Hospital to give birth.
However, the Trust has today confirmed plans to fully re-open the Midwifery-Led Birthing Centre (MLBC) at South Tyneside are ‘progressing well’ with births now expected to resume from Tuesday, November 1, 2022.
Melanie Johnson, Executive Director of Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professionals, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be able to confirm a date for the full re-opening of our Midwifery-Led Birthing Centre in November.
“It is such an important part of our maternity service and we can’t wait to start welcoming families back and delivering babies in South Tyneside again.
“Providing safe, high quality maternity services for local families will always be our absolute priority and pausing births at the MLBC was a hugely difficult decision for us.
“We know that parents want to be able to have the choice to give birth in the borough and I want to thank people for their patience, understanding and support during this difficult time.”
She added: “I would also like to thank our fantastic maternity staff, both our community midwives and our hospital-based teams who work tirelessly to look after the families and babies in our care.
“This has been a testing time, but we can now look forward with certainty as we further develop our fantastic maternity services for the future.”
The Trust said it has been working hard to re-open the MLBC as quickly and safely as possible, investing £680,000 to further strengthen the midwifery workforce and working closely with the whole maternity team in preparation for reopening in November.
The unit opened in August 2019 under the controversial ‘Path to Excellence’ programme, which health bosses say is working to improve services for people in South Tyneside and Sunderland.
The midwife-led birthing centre at South Tyneside opened in August 2019 to offer women with ‘low risk, problem-free pregnancies’ a ‘home-from-home’ environment.
Those assessed as having high-risk pregnancy; for example, if they are expecting twins, their baby is in the breach position, or they have experienced complications in this or a previous pregnancy, are advised to give birth in the Trust’s consultant-led unit at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
If complications do arise at South Tyneside, staff can contact the consultant-led unit at Sunderland Royal Hospital and mothers and their midwives can be transferred by ambulance if necessary.
Campaigners want to see a full obstetric service at both Sunderland and South Tyneside hospitals.
However, the Trust said the MLBC had ‘proved hugely popular’ since it opened, with families ‘travelling from all parts of the region to give birth’.
Bosses say more than 400 babies have been safely delivered at the MLBC since it opened with ‘fantastic feedback’ from those who have given birth there.
Confirmation of the re-opening date for births in November comes after a recent restart of parent education classes over the summer.
The classes had to be put on hold during the pandemic but have now returned to MLBC marking the first step towards re-opening to births.