HEALTH service chiefs are to make a final decision today (Thursday, January 16) on the future of the free-standing maternity unit at Chippenham Community Hospital.

The decision will be taken at a Governing Bodies meeting of the Bath, Swindon and Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group at the Dorothy House Hospice Care's offices in Winsley.

The BSW's Governing Body is being asked to approve the replacement of four community post-natal beds at Chippenham FMU by support closer to or in women's homes.

The BSW says: "This would be phased in with four beds remaining in Chippenham for up to 12 months to support the co-creation of new pathways."

Up to 59 per cent of 1,855 people who responded to the BSW's consultation, disagreed or strong disagreed with the Chippenham proposal.

Health chiefs will also be urged to approve the closure of two birthing units in Trowbridge and at Paulton in Somerset. This would mean mothers would have to travel to Chippenham or Frome if they wish to have an in-county birth.

The BSW plans to create two 'Alongside Midwifery Units' at the Royal United Hospital in Bath and at Salisbury District Hospital. These would sit alongside the existing AMU at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon.

Critics say the proposals mean mothers will have further to travel to give birth at one of the large hospitals.

Dianne Davis, 44, of Bromham, whose daughter Gracie, now 11, was the first child to be born in 2009 at the Trowbridge FMU's new birthing unit, said: "It would be devastating to lose such a facility, which offers local parents an option other than the overrun ward in Bath."

Campaigner Andy Milroy, from Trowbridge, says the decision is being taken by a newly-formed and "unaccountable" body. He has urged local councils to complain about the proposals, saying they are under-mining local communities.

He added: "It confirms the worst fears of Wiltshire residents that the new body will disregard the needs of Wiltshire and boost those of Bath and Swindon."

The BSW says more mothers are choosing to have their babies delivered at the larger hospitals in Bath, Salisbury and Swindon, meaning the FMUs were being under-used for births.

The Chippenham FMU would keep three beds for births and would still provide ante-natal and post-natal care services for mothers and support for home births.

Lucy Baker, the BSW's lead director for the 'Transforming Maternity Services Together' project, said: "Our proposal would allow us to provide more choice for more women across our area about where and how they are supported before, during and after the birth of their baby, and allows us to make more efficient use of our resources and workforce so we can further improve our ante-natal and post-natal and birthing services.

"We also want to ensure we are delivering the services that can meet the changing needs

of our local women and families both now and in the future.

“We are not planning to reduce how much we spend on maternity services, nor are we proposing to reduce the amount of staff we have or to close any buildings.”