Call to end staffing crisis that has kept hospital birth centre closed for 18 months

MPs have called on the government to take action over the NHS staffing crisis that has left mums-to-be unable to use Cossham Birth Centre for 18 months.

The midwife-led centre at the hospital in Lodge Road, Kingswood, was set up to provide a “home from home environment with birthing pools, aromatherapy, massage and a focus on active birth” – an alternative to a conventional hospital birth or home birth.

North Bristol NHS Trust, which runs the centre, announced in October 2022 that it was “temporarily suspending” services, citing “workforce challenges due to sickness and vacancies”.

Last summer the trust said the suspension would remain in place until the spring of this year, but it remained “committed to providing maternity care from the site”.

Since the start of this year, the Voice has been asking the trust whether it will be able to reopen the centre, but it has been unable to confirm an opening date.

The suspension follows a previous 12-month closure from October 2018 and a shorter shutdown from December 2021 to January 2022.

Kingswood MP Damien Egan and Kerry McCarthy, whose Bristol East constituency includes the hospital, have written a joint letter to Health Secretary Victoria Atkins calling on her to provide “certainty” on when the centre will reopen.

Kerry McCarthy and Damien Egan

The MPs said: “Unfortunately we have been told the unit is not in a position to reopen, as the trust is still facing difficulties with midwife recruitment and retention.”

The MPs say the issue has been raised repeatedly with Ms Atkins and her predecessors.

They said: “Since the refurbished birth centre re-opened 11 years ago, it has been forced to close its doors for over two and a half years due to workforce challenges. 

‘Staff, mothers and babies at risk’

“It is not right that, following a multi-million refurbishment, the centre has been forced to close its  doors for more than a quarter of the time since.

“Expectant parents are being forced to travel many miles further to the nearest birth centre and would like certainty when Cossham Birth Centre might re-open.” 

The MPs said the high turnover and shortage of midwives was “putting staff, mothers and babies at risk”.

They asked Ms Atkins: “As Secretary of State, will you do everything you can to address the workforce challenges within maternity services in the NHS?

“We would also be grateful if you could provide any certainty of when the Birth Centre might expect to re-open its doors, so that it can once again serve the people of Bristol and South Gloucestershire.” 

Government pledges to increase training and jobs

Responding to the MPs’ letter, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are aiming to increase the number of nursing and midwifery training places to around 58,000 by 2031/32 through the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, which is backed by over £2.4 billion in government funding.

“We have invested £165 million a year since 2021 to improve maternity and neonatal care. This will rise to £186 million a year in April, improving the quality of care for mothers and babies and increasing the number of midwifery posts available.”

North Bristol NHS Trust continues to run appointments, breastfeeding support and other services from Cossham, as well as a midwife-led centre at Southmead Hospital and a home birth service.