STUCTURE: Maternity services in east Kent are to be reconfigured, with two units to close to births, it has been announced.

Units at Dover and Canterbury will no longer offer birthing facilities but will continue to provide community support services to expectant and new mothers.

Birthing capacity will be expanded at a unit at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford while a new unit will be opened at the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate.

The centre in Margate was completed some time ago but has remained mothballed due to staffing shortages and the decision to reconfigure the area’s maternity services. It is now expected to open in September.

The announcement follows a three-month public consultation led by NHS Kent and Medway and East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust.

The NHS Kent and Medway cluster board said the chosen option offered “the best quality of care for all mothers and babies, and a safe, sustainable service for the future”.

It said it would invest more than £700,000 over the next year to employ 30 midwives and midwifery staff at Ashford and Margate to “ensure every woman receives one-to-one care from a midwife in active labour”.

The two hospitals will have a midwife-led unit next to a consultant-led ward, offering access to doctors in case of emergency and specialist neonatal intensive care on site.

Community teams will continue to be based in Canterbury and Dover offering all current day and community services. This includes midwife and consultant-led clinics, parent education classes, postnatal breastfeeding help and advice.

Births at Dover will not stop until the Margate unit is open and there may be a period of time while both are open, the PCT cluster said.

Sarah Montgomery, an east Kent GP who chaired the Maternity Services Review Group, said: “After looking carefully at all the evidence we believe investing in maternity staff in Ashford and Margate and opening the new midwife-led Margate unit will ensure all mothers in east Kent have the best experience and continue to receive a safe, first class maternity care now and in the future.”