THE birthing unit in Trowbridge will close from April this year, health bosses announced today.

This morning approved the plans at a Clinical Commissioning Group meeting at Dorothy House Hospice Care.

It means any pregnant women will now have to go to hospitals elsewhere for births or to Chippenham where some beds are being kept.

Units in Chippenham, Trowbridge, Frome and Paulton will continue to provide ante-natal and post-natal services but most mums will be expected to give birth at the larger hospitals in Bath, Salisbury and Swindon.

Lucy Baker, acting director for maternity services at Wiltshire CCG, said that in December only four babies were born in Trowbridge and only six in Paulton.

Sarah Merritt, acting deputy director of nursing and midwifery at the Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust, said: “These proposals will help us provide more choices for birth to more women and will build a strong foundation on which to enhance continuity of care so that more women can see the same midwife or small team of midwives before, during and after labour.

“The addition of Alongside Midwifery Units at the Royal United Hospital in Bath and at Salisbury Hospital will give our birthing mums a new option for labour and delivery, significantly enhancing choices in Salisbury in particular.

“Our midwives and staff are excited to embrace this new way of working in purpose built facilities.”

Mrs Baker added: “The decision follows a three-year period of engagement and consultation with more than 4,000 mums, families, staff and partners in the community to develop a new vision for maternity services, proposals for change and final recommendations.

“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 antenatal 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.”

She told the meeting the CCH would phase in the replacement of four post-natal beds at Chippenham over the next 12 months while it works with mothers and families to support home births.

She told the meeting the decision addresses the issues posed by changes to the population. The average age of a woman giving birth in the UK is now 35 and more and more women are experiencing high risk pregnancies - for example, because of high blood pressure, obesity or diabetes - which means they need to be supported in a hospital setting with an expert medical team available.

The combination of these factors means there is vastly increased pressure on services at the Obstetric Units at theRUH, the Great Western Hospital and at Salisbury District Hospital, she said.

In addition, many women with a low risk pregnancy are choosing to have their babies in an Obstetric Unit because they are worried about having to move by ambulance to another site during or after their labour if they need the help of a doctor.

The BSW said that women need a safe, convenient alternative so staff at the three obstetric units at Bath, Salisbury and Swindon hospitals can focus on mothers who really need their care.

Mrs Merritt said: “Some of the changes we are proposing are because, particularly at the RUH, certain services are under-used and we are often staffing empty buildings and beds.

“85 per cent of women give birth in one of the three Obstetric Units with fewer than six per cent giving birth across our four FMUs in Chippenham, Trowbridge, Paulton and Frome.

“We believe we have the right number and mix of staff but they’re not based in the right locations to ensure efficient use of our resources and provide women with the

services they need.

“In our FMUs - particularly at night - staff are covering areas even when there are no or very few births.

“On average only one baby is delivered every two or three days in each of these units but they need to be staffed to support births 24 hours a day seven days a week.”

The plans have been developed to ensure services are efficient and sustainable to support future population growth, changes in housing policy, and the repatriation of military personnel to South Wiltshire from April 2019.

But Andy Milroy, of Trowbridge, who has campaigned against the closures, accused the CCG Governing Bodies of ignoring the results of its own consultation, which indicated that 62 per cent of the 1,855 respondents wanted the Trowbridge unit to stay open.

But Mrs Baker rejected the criticism, saying only 55 of the 88 people who responded in Trowbridge had asked for the unit to stay open.

The CCG will now launch a new Room to Grow appeal to fund the new maternity unit at the RUH in Bath at a cost of just over £6.17 million.