Heartbreak bed crisis at ERI maternity unit

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MOTHERS at Edinburgh’s flagship hospital are facing a beds crisis in the maternity unit.

Staff at the new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary say the shortage means women who have lost a newborn baby or miscarried are having to stay in hospital next to mothers who have just given birth.

New mothers are also having to be moved to high-dependency or gynaecological wards because of the bed shortage.

Representatives from health workers’ unions Unison and the Royal College of Nursing are to meet with bosses at the 184 million privately-financed hospital next week to try to resolve the crisis, which has been branded "unacceptable" by health workers.

A Unison insider said: "They have just not got enough beds. There are fewer beds now and the post and ante-natal wards are together.

"It’s not very nice when someone has lost their baby to be next to someone having a baby. Using the HDU (high-dependency unit) ward as a post-natal ward is an unacceptable situation.

"We really need to look at the bed crisis that’s happening."

Staff say the high-dependency unit, which cares for women who have had Caesareans or suffered complications during birth, is having to be used for routine post-natal patients.

The Simpsons Centre for Reproductive Health, based at the ERI, lost separate wards for pre and post-pregnancy care when the hospital opened fully in April, because one maternity ward was turned into a care of the elderly ward.

Hospital chiefs insist it always intended to close the beds to maternity when the hospital was fully open.

The maternity unit is now short of 19 beds and has had to merge its post and ante-natal wards.

Support groups for women who have suffered stillbirths and miscarriages have criticised the merging of wards.

Dorothy MacKenzie, manager of the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society (Sands) Lothian, said: "It is just totally unacceptable. I know in some situations it is impossible to separate ante and post-natal care if the mother needs medical treatment. I know it is difficult to put her in a private place, but there really should be a facility. You are going through hell as it is without having to hear a live baby.

"Since the new hospital opened we have lost our family room where parents would be put with their dead or dying baby. It gave us a space where we could go and be with parents.

"Although the hospital do say they are trying to give them a private room, we are not happy with the situation and we expressed that to the hospital."

The Simpsons Centre for Reproductive Health has just 55 maternity beds to serve the whole of Edinburgh, which has one of the highest birth rates in Scotland. Around 7000 babies are born at the centre every year.

Among the most recent was Chancellor Gordon Brown and wife Sarah’s son, John, who was born at the hospital’s maternity unit five days ago.

The Lothians also has the highest proportion of older mothers in Scotland, which means they are more likely to have complications during pregnancy and longer hospital stays as a result.

The new ERI at Little France has 200 fewer beds than the old hospital at Lauriston Place - a move hospital bosses said was designed to reduce bed blocking. But critics say the hospital is too small and should have been built with more beds than the old hospital.

A spokeswoman for Lothian University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the ERI, said: "In November 2002, 19 temporary beds which had been made available to maternity during Phase 1 were closed.

"It had always been planned that when Phase Two opened these beds would transfer to care of the elderly. We presently have a total of 55 beds. This was always the planned bed capacity at the new hospital and we have been working with these beds for nearly a year now.

"The beds that we have in reproductive health, including maternity and gynaecology in-patient beds, are at times of peak activity used flexibly. If a woman requires admission to hospital, a bed will be made available in the most appropriate area.

"High-dependency beds are within the labour suite and are routinely used for women following delivery."