Overnight changes at Alnwick’s maternity unit

Hillcrest Maternity Unit.
Hillcrest Maternity Unit.

An overnight on-call model is being introduced at Alnwick’s Hillcrest Maternity Unit from tonight, due to staffing pressures and patient safety.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has today announced that is has made the ‘urgent temporary change to ensure the continued safety and wellbeing of pregnant women and their babies’.

Due to staffing shortages at Alnwick’s midwifery-led maternity unit, which is located off South Road, healthcare leaders have made an ‘important safety decision’ to introduce the overnight on-call system, which has been in place in Berwick since 2013.

Described as interim safety measure, this temporary arrangement is being put in place as the Trust continues its ‘extensive recruitment efforts’ to reach a full staffing complement in Alnwick.

The interim changes will come into immediate effect from 8pm today, allowing the Trust to continue fully staffing Hillcrest during the day, seven days a week and continue with all local community midwifery services.

The temporary measure means that overnight, between the hours of 6pm and 8.30am (seven days a week), there will be an on-call midwifery service for Alnwick women who are booked to give birth at Hillcrest.

The Trust is in contact with the 16 pregnant women who are currently booked in to deliver at Hillcrest between November and January to explain what will happen should they go into labour overnight and how to contact the Alnwick on-call team while these temporary arrangements are in place.

During this interim safety measure, women who give birth in the unit will experience a shortened post-natal stay and discharges will be based upon clinical need.

As the unit will not be staffed 24/7, there will be no inpatient post-natal care available for women who have chosen to deliver at The Northumbria hospital, near Cramlington, however extra support with community breastfeeding services will be available to support local women at home.

Janice McNichol, head of midwifery at the Trust, said: “Our team in Alnwick has been working very hard in recent weeks with the added pressures of a number of vacancies and we have introduced this temporary arrangement in the best interest of patient safety.

“By implementing the on-call model overnight, it relieves the immediate staffing pressures so that we can keep service running seven days a week while we continue with our efforts to recruit into the vacant posts we currently have.

“I would like to thank all of our midwives at Hillcrest who have worked hard to cover shifts to keep our service running safely and colleagues from Berwick and The Northumbria hospital who have supported the Alnwick team.

“Safety must always come first and we know that our overnight on-call model works extremely well in Berwick and is something we can quickly extend in Alnwick as a short-term measure to help with the immediate pressures. We have been in touch with the small number of women who are booked into Hillcrest and will, of course, continue to keep them fully updated as the situation changes.”

Hillcrest Maternity Unit at Alnwick Infirmary is one of three midwifery-led units run by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, alongside services in Berwick and Hexham.

The number of babies born at Hillcrest during the last year (April 2015 to March 2016) was 38, with 23 deliveries to date since April 2016. The Trust will continue to keep all stakeholders updated about the temporary changes and recruitment efforts.