A further blow has been dealt to Okehampton Hospital after the NHS trust in charge announced that its maternity unit will remain closed into the New Year.
The Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust has blamed ‘ongoing staff vacancies and long-term sickness absence’ for its decision to extend the closure of the birth centres at Okehampton and Honiton hospitals.
A statement from the trust, said: ‘The extension means that women will not be able to give birth at either site for a further three months until safe staffing levels have been attained.
‘The suspension will be reviewed again early in 2018. We are however pleased to state that all antenatal and postnatal clinics, midwifery support and home birth services at Honiton and Okehampton are unaffected and running as normal.’
The decision has been greeted with anger in Okehampton, where Mayor Jan Goffey has been vocal in the campaign against the closure of the unit.
The hospital was closed due to staff shortages in mid-August. This came only six weeks after an NHS Acute Services Review recommended that midwifery-led unit at Okehampton should be closed permanently, in favour of women giving birth either at home or 25 miles away.
There has been a maternity ward in Okehampton for 200 years. Cllr Goffey said she feared that this would now happen.
‘This hospital has been a maternity hospital since the 1800s and to lose it totally is very sad,’ said Cllr Goffey.
‘It is an absolute tragedy that we are seeing an end to maternity services in the town. Within 15 miles of Okehampton the population as a whole is some 37,000 people. That is the number of people who are being affected by these ward closures. A lot of people are very upset at the closures.’
‘To expect women to travel 25 miles to a hospital is too far, and that is only if you live in the town — if you are out in the sticks it is even further.’