Harrogate Maternity service: delivering the best

Pictured in the Delivery Suite are Heather Harker, Rebecca Davies, Alison Pedlingham, Frances Langford, Andy Brown, Dr Chandra Jampala, Barbara Hall and Lorraine Ellis.  (130701M3a)
Pictured in the Delivery Suite are Heather Harker, Rebecca Davies, Alison Pedlingham, Frances Langford, Andy Brown, Dr Chandra Jampala, Barbara Hall and Lorraine Ellis. (130701M3a)

Maternity services in Harrogate have been hailed as one of the most reliable in the country.

It has been revealed the hospital unit has closed for just three hours in the past two years.

New figures show that thousands of mums-to-be across the country have been turned away from their chosen hospital after going into labour, a crisis put down to bed and staffing shortages.

In Leeds, at the Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust where Channel Four documentary series One Born Every Minute was filmed, the maternity unit closed 353 times in the past 24 months.

But in Harrogate, where around 2,200 babies are born every year, just one woman has been diverted in the same time period.

“It’s an absolute privilege for midwives to be able to support women through childbirth,” said Harrogate’s deputy chief nurse and head of midwifery at Jan Chaplin, delighted at the recognition.

“It’s such an important time for them and that’s why it’s so important to get it right.”

The latest figures, revealed as part of a nationwide investigation, show that maternity wards across the country have been closing for up to three days at a time because of bed and staffing shortages.

Over the past two years, the Telegraph newspaper’s investigation found, around 1,700 women were turned away from their chosen hospital after going into labour.

The longest closure was a 67-hour hiatus at St James University Hospitals in Leeds, put down to “capacity” issues.

But the Harrogate and District Foundation Trust (HDFT) closed its doors just once in two years, with a single woman turned away because of a shortage of beds.

“We think it’s one of the worst experiences to go into labour and to then be told the unit is closed and you have to go somewhere else,” said Mrs Chaplin. “That must be devastating for them, and so disappointing.

“At times we have been extremely busy and we have had to divert because of safety, but it’s not a decision taken lightly. We strive to stay open at all times.”

Maternity services in Harrogate have long been recognised as one of the best in the country, with the unit being named best performing nationally in 2007. It is a ‘unit of choice’ for expectant mums, with one in three travelling from outside the Harrogate area to give birth here.

“Harrogate maternity services are fabulous and it’s great they are getting this recognition,” said Sally Haslewood, ‘Advertiser columnist and founder of parenting website Harrogate Mumbler. “It’s big enough that all the services are there, but small enough that it stays personal.”’

New mum Hannah Gostlow welcomed baby girl Cecile Holly into the world this week.

“I’m so grateful to the midwives at Harrogate, they were fantastic,” she said. “They made me feel comfortable and were just so friendly.”

The 36-year-old, who lives in Knaresborough with boyfriend James Monaghan, went into labour on Saturday night.

“She’s my first, so I was really unsure what to expect,” said Hannah. “They were really kind and explained what would be happening.”

For Hannah and James, the important thing was having someone to talk to: “I had to get a taxi from Knaresborough so I was really panicking that it was going to happen in the taxi - but I didn’t want to come in early and have to go home again. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d been turned away at that point.

“You can read all the books, all the information, but there’s no substitute for having someone calm to talk to!”

Cecile Holly, named after great-grandfather Cecil, was born at 6.50am on Sunday, June 30, weighing 7lb 1oz.

“There can be nothing worse than ringing up to say you’re in labour and being told you’re going to have to go elsewhere.”

Maternity and paediatrics matron Alison Pedlingham has worked on maternity services in Harrogate for 25 years this week, herself delivering hundreds of babies. She now heads up a team of 85 midwives, working with thousands of mums every year.

“They’ve probably spent their whole pregnancy thinking about this one thing,” she said. “They’ve planned how long it’s going to take, how they are going to get to the hospital and who is going to be with them. To be told you have to go somewhere else is an added anxiety. We try our best to provide a place they can deliver.”

Around a third of the babies born here come from out of the area, choosing to come to Harrogate because of its reputation and facilities. Or, it emerges, because of the Great Yorkshire Show.

“This is always a good time of year for us,” smiles Mrs Pedlingham. “We often get women who come for the day and then go into labour.

“That’s the problem with maternity services, they are so unpredictable. You can start with a quiet night but who knows how busy it will get.

“But the beauty of working in Harrogate is that you do remember so many families. It’s small enough so that every family is special.”

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