King’s Lynn hospital reported over home birth issue

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Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) is to be reported to its regulator for its failure to provide a home birthing service – by the group responsible for commissioning health services in West Norfolk.

The hospital is obliged to provide the service under the conditions of its licence to offer maternity services, West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) heard at a meeting on Thursday.

But home births have not been offered since before September last year when the service was suspended due to staffing problems. The hospital initially said it was a temporary suspension but in March it gave notice it was being permanently terminated.

Kathryn Ellis, CCG director of operations, said: “We responded immediately and said we wanted it to consider re-establisment of the service. Unfortunately they have not been minded to change their decision.

“Home birthing is an element of maternity services at the QEH and is a service contracted within the QEH licence.

“It’s something we would expect them to provide. National guidance around home birthing is not mandatory but it is very clearly good practice to offer a range of birthing options.”

The CCG and hospital have each already received a formal letter threatening a legal challenge over the absence of the service, the meeting at West Norfolk Council’s King’s Court offices, in Lynn, heard.

It was agreed to follow Miss Ellis’s recommendation to report the QEH to health watchdog Monitor, request written confirmation from the hospital on its reasons for withdrawing the service and draw up a report on practicalities of securing an alternative provider.

In light of financial difficulties already facing the hospital, the CCG agreed not to impose a financial sanction at this stage, but to keep the option open.

The CCG also plans to ask Monitor to prioritise investigations into home birth and maternity services generally in a planned review. And it wants the QEH to record all women whose first preference is for a home birth.

The QEH has said, of around 2,400 births it deals with each year, around 25 to 30 women have historically had a home birth. A report to the CCG said the QEH had said it would need to recruit five additional midwives to reinstate the service.

The report added: “West Norfolk CCG was also informed of the view of the chief executive of QEH that a number of NHS trusts of the same size as QEH had already made the decision to cease the home birth service.”

It appeared the QEH’s decision was based on: an inability to recruit, retain or fund the necessary midwives and the low number of home births.

The QEH is already in special measures with Monitor and quality concerns have been raised by the Care Quality Commission.

Sue Hayter, CCG member, said QEH also lacked a midwife led unit – a facility where mothers can give birth without being surrounded by the medical facilities of a hospital room.

Dr Tony Burgess said: “The service women have had in West Norfolk for many years has not really been as good as we would have wanted.”

The QEH declined to comment on the home birth service.