Manchester maternity meltdown

NHS plans to close Greater Manchester maternity units is leaving Orthodox Jews in north Manchester only one hospital within walking distance over Shabbat and Yomtov.

Although Jewish law allows women in labour to be driven to hospital on Shabbat, husbands and family may often have to walk to and from home after the birth. But of four maternity units used by north Manchester's Jewish community, two are to close in November.

Choice is further cut to one after an NHS advisory leaflet, issued last week, said only complex pregnancies would go to St Mary's Hospital's specialist maternity unit, which is preferred by many Jews for its expertise and walkable city centre location.

The leaflet said: "There may not be enough midwives and doctors to give you the care they need." Just last week, triplets born at the unit had to be moved 20 miles to Wigan because of a shortage of incubators. Other local maternity units were full.

From this month women must book into their most local hospital, leaving only North Manchester General in Crumpsall as an option for Jews living in Salford and Bury. But on Monday, Channel 4's Dispatches programme disclosed understaffing, overflowing wards and clinical errors at the Crumpsall hospital.

Lucy Bursk, from Prestwich, due to give birth at St Mary's in a week, said she would be forced to go to Crumpsall in future so that her husband could walk.

"I would be upset because it doesn't have the same reputation as St Mary's. I am concerned they are limiting people," she said.

The NHS trust which runs North Manchester General said its new £32m unit, designed to take over from the now closed maternity centres, would "ensure people from North Manchester and the surrounding areas will continue to receive a high standard of care."

But Mandy Ross, also from Prestwich, who had her fourth child at the new unit eight weeks ago, said staff were already struggling.

"The care I received was good, but they were quite badly understaffed. If they had to deal with a lot more patients, that would concern me."

The NHS body responsible for the maternity shake-up said its plans included additional staff for all maternity units.

Women with religious needs may still be allowed to give birth at St Mary's, but only following individual discussions with midwives. A statement said the new advice was temporary during the maternity closure phase and "was not introduced due to current pressure on the St Mary's maternity unit. They are a precautionary measure to help ensure women can deliver at their local maternity unit."

    Last updated: 9:53am, April 15 2011