A Scottish health board has been accused of failing new mothers after breastfeeding support services were slashed.
Pregnancy and Parents Centre, a charity which runs support groups for parents, has been contacted by dozens of “desperate mums” after cuts to walk-in clinics across NHS Lothian. The charity has accused the health board of “gatekeeping” support for new mothers when they need it most.
It comes after vital face-to-face help for breastfeeding mothers was slashed by 60 per cent. Five weekly, half-day specialist breastfeeding clinics held in community centres were shut in December 2017. The clinics were staffed by breastfeeding specialist midwives who saw up to 50 women each week. The walk-in service was replaced with two weekly clinics at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and St John’s in Livingston, helping just 12 women a week.
Since the changes, mothers who need specialist support have to be referred by a health visitor or midwife to request an appointment at a clinic. The charity said mothers who are able to access the service have to wait more than a week, leaving them struggling, often in the first few weeks after birth.
Daisy Dinwoodie, a trustee at the Pregnancy and Parents Centre said: “We have seen a massive increase in calls from mums since the closures. Last week we had dozens of desperate mums all struggling to get help. The majority have babies under three weeks old. NHS Lothian is making it harder for women who need immediate access to help that is essential for a new mum under pressure to feed her baby.
“We speak to many women experiencing serious breastfeeding problems who have found it very difficult or impossible to secure a referral to the specialist breastfeeding clinics. Over a quarter of babies seen at the drop-ins were malnourished or losing weight due to feeding problems. That shows the urgency of the support that was offered.”
Daniel Johnson, MSP for Edinburgh South, said: “The situation in NHS Lothian with specialist breastfeeding clinics is of huge concern. We have long understood the health benefits for mum and child and also the issues mums face when breastfeeding. It’s vital that funding be found to restore these services.”
Professor Allison McCallum, director of public health and health policy at NHS Lothian, said: “We will continue to improve our current range of services and it is our aim that every mother will have easy access to a support group.”