Campaigners call for a stand-alone birth centre to be built in Sheffield

A stand alone birth centre in Birmingham
A stand alone birth centre in Birmingham
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A group of campaigners have proposed an ambitious plan to build a stand-alone midwife-led birth centre in Sheffield.

The Sheffield branch of the Association of Radical Midwives (ARM) want to follow places like Dewsbury and Solihull and claim the centres save the NHS money in the long-term.

The group, made up of professors and midwives, propose the construction of a freestanding birth centre in Sheffield, to provide 'choice and improve outcomes' for low risk women in South Yorkshire

They say a unit of this kind will be the 'perfect go between' for mums who don't want a home birth but also dislike hospitals.

A report published by the group claims stand-alone birth centres improve outcomes for mothers and babies, with no associated increase in neonatal risk.

Campaigners say such a centre in Sheffield would bring a reduction in labour interventions, a reduction in caesarean section rates, a reduction in the short and long term costs for the health service, improve the birth experience for women and families and increase job satisfaction for midwives.

They added NHS trusts across the country have found the financial cost of 'intrapartum care' for low risk women was reduced with the introduction of successful birth centres.

A micro-costing audit at the Barkantine Birth Centre in Tower Hamlets found that care for women labouring at the birth centre cost an average of £1296, around £850 less than similar women who began the labour at the Royal London Hospital.

Campaigners say a facility would work well based near the Sheffield/Rotherham border.

Sheffield ARM together with maternity service users started a petition two years ago to assess support for such a facility.

The group said there was 'great interest and support' for the idea. In just a few months, 2,000 people signed a petition backing the plans.

One woman responding to the group's survey said she gave birth at Jessop and 'would have liked option of birth centre'. She added despite having a 'straightforward delivery' she didn't even get to go in the midwife-led unit because it was full'.

Campaigners ran an anonymous online survey of midwives in South Yorkshire, from September to November 2016. There were 86 responses to which 94 per cent supported the principle of a birth centre, and recognition of the need for more choices for pregnant women in the city. Most midwives agreed with the statement the birth centre 'should be separate to the Jessop Wing'.

Pheobe Palloti, former Sheffield midwife and now a senior academic in the field of midwifery said the evidence on the benefits of a stand-alone birthing centre were 'overwhelming'.

"The statistics tell us women with low-risk births benefit the most from a centre like this. These places are more comfortable, relaxing and it completely removes the clinical feel of a hospital. We've found that breast-feeding rates increase and it's a much more welcoming setting for dads and partners.

"Every big city in the UK has one and Leeds are in the process of getting one. Sheffield will soon stick out like a sore thumb. A city of this size should have one.

"This isn't about knocking the current service because I've worked as a midwife in Sheffield and the staff are absolutely amazing - they're top professionals and they're credit to the NHS.

"Freestanding birth centres are cost effective. They improve outcomes for mothers and babies, such as decreasing caesarean section and instrumental birth rates.

This also has positive implications for subsequent pregnancies and reduces costs for the future healthcare of a mother and child.

Birth centres work well in busy urban settings and support the vital work of large tertiary referral centres. Women and midwives need this choice and have overwhelmingly shown their support for a freestanding birth centre in South Yorkshire."

"This is about giving women a real choice and it will benefit everyone. We'd really urge mums to get behind this campaign and get in touch with us."

Rachael Gardner, founder of Sheffield charity Forging Families is backing the campaign.

The charity aims to provide a voice for families on matters of the NHS.

The mum-of-two said: "Having a birth centre would be absolutely fantastic in Sheffield.

"Some might say people aren't asking for it but people don't know what they're about. We did a survey asked if mothers would consider having their baby in a birth centre - three per cent said they would consider it.

"We told them what a birth centre was and asked them to answer the survey again. Around 75 per cent they would consider it.

"I do think it's ridiculous that the city the size of Sheffield doesn't have a stand-alone birth centre. There are no enemies here - this is just about giving the best choice available to women according to the National Institute of Clinical Excellence guidelines."

Dr David Throssell, Medical Director, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “We currently have a Midwifery Led Birthing Unit which is located within the Jessop Wing as well as a service for women who wish to give birth in their own home.

"These services are for women who are fit and healthy and carry their pregnancy to term. For women with more complex needs or those who experience preterm birth, care is provided by a team of professionals on the Consultant Led Birthing Unit which is also located with the Jessop Wing.

"Having the two units together under one roof is beneficial for women, as specialist care and equipment is readily available if a straightforward birth becomes more complex or an emergency situation.”

If you're interested in finding out more information on the group behind the campaign, email sheffieldbirthcentre@gmail.com