STRUCTURE: Directors of Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals Foundation Trust have earmarked the trust’s Ascot Birth Centre for permanent closure – in part due to GP commissioners moving their patients to another unit.

The midwife-led centre was temporarily closed to birthing in September amid concerns over staffing levels and patient safety.

According to a statement published by the NHS Berkshire primary care trust cluster, permanent closure would be a “significant change” and as such would require a “full public consultation”.

A spokesman said: “This will take place at the point when NHS Berkshire is clear about the future proposals for the Heatherwood Hospital site. 

“Whilst this work is undertaken the Ascot Birth Centre will remain closed for patient safety reasons.”

One of the key issues identified by the Heatherwood and Wexham Park board was the decision of Bracknell and Ascot Clinical Commissioning Group or their community midwifery service to be provided by Frimley Park Hospital, in Surrey.

Those services will move in the next two months, a board report said. Although trust believes “the financial effect would be neutral”, but would result in “a far smaller community midwifery team providing for the Windsor and Maidenhead area”.

However the “main issue” is that the trust’s 16-strong community midwifery a team has “proven too small to provide continuity” – this would get worse with a smaller team.

The report said: “Informal discussion with the Bracknell and Ascot GPs suggests they support the view that the trust cannot provide a sustainable standalone midwife-led unit”.

As the centre was based at Heatherwood Hospital, it was not attached to a major acute site with an accident and emergency unit, and was only used for low-risk births. The report said that in 2011 it hosted 210 births – of which 45 women needed to be transferred in labour to the maternity unit at Wexham Park general hospital.

The unit has been providing pre-natal and post-natal care trust said that ongoing staffing problems including a national shortage of midwives, resignations and long-term sickness meant the unit was running at 60 per cent the required staffing level.

Dr William Tong, chair of the Bracknell and Ascot CCG, said: “Most pregnant women living in Bracknell Forest choose to have their babies at Frimley Park Hospital.

“The CCG’s decision reflects the wishes and choices of these women. It will improve continuity of care for mothers-to-be by ensuring coverage by the same team before, during and after they give birth.

“The move brings Bracknell and Ascot practices in line with the Sandhurst Group Practice [part of the Bracknell and Ascot CCG] which already uses Frimley Park for community midwifery services.”