Community teams will continue to provide clinics

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Two maternity units in east Kent are due to shut in a major overhaul of maternity services.

Mums-to-be will no longer be able to give birth at Canterbury or Dover centres and will instead use the Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother Hospital in Margate and the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford. Births are currently suspended at Canterbury and no date has yet been set for the closure of Dover.

Community teams will continue to be based at the maternity centres in Canterbury and Dover and pregnant women will still be able to access the current day and community services, including midwife and consultant-led clinics, parent education classes, postnatal breastfeeding help and advice.

The decision follows a three month public consultation into maternity services by NHS Kent and Medway and East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust (EKHFT).

During the consultation more than 400 patients, parents, members of the public, community groups, midwives and GPs gave their views.

The NHS said it will invest more than £700,000 over the next year to employ 30 midwives and midwifery staff at Ashford and Margate to ensure every woman receives one-to-one care from a midwife in active labour, and open the new midwife-led centre in Margate in September.

Birth services will be concentrated at the William Harvey and the QEQM, with each hospital having a midwife-led unit next to a consultant-led ward, offering rapid access to doctors in case of emergency and specialist neonatal intensive care on site.

The hospitals trust said it will also be introducing a range of improvements to antenatal and postnatal care.

Dr Sarah Montgomery, an east Kent GP who chaired the Maternity Services Review Group, said: “We listened very carefully to what people told us and we would like to thank everyone for sharing their views and experiences.

“What was clear from what we heard was that people agreed we needed to change. They also agreed the Margate unit should open and that mothers like the choice of having a midwife-led unit near a consultant-led unit as they could enjoy the benefits of a natural, calm and home-like birth with the reassurance of rapid access to doctors if need be. The public also agreed that maternity services should be affordable.

“In making our decision, we could not compromise on our guarantee to provide one-to-one care from a midwife in established labour for everybody – not just, as has been the case, low risk women in our standalone centres, but in particular those women at high risk of complications on our labour wards.

“After looking carefully at all the evidence we believe investing in maternity staff in Ashford and Margate and opening the new midwife-led Margate unit will ensure all mothers in east Kent have the best experience and continue to receive a safe, first class maternity care now and in the future.”

EKHFT’s head of midwifery Lindsey Stevens added: “During the course of our consultation we heard some really fantastic comments about the care that our midwives provide – but we also heard that parents recognised that they were under pressure in our consultant-led wards and couldn’t always give the levels of postnatal support our women need.

“We also listened carefully to women’s requests for improvements to antenatal and postnatal care and, with increased staff, we are confident we can do better.

“We are introducing a number of changes including an improved helpline staffed by experienced midwives for women in the final stages of pregnancy and we plan to allow partners to stay for 24 hours on postnatal wards.

“These will ensure that the needs of women in east Kent are met all the way through their pregnancy and in those crucial weeks and months of bonding after birth.”

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