People must have their say to save the Royal Free maternity unit

Labour candidate for Finchley and Golders Green, Sarah Sackman, on saving maternity services

Edgware Community Hospital
Edgware Community Hospital is also part of the review of local maternity services

If you live in North London, there’s a good chance that you were either born at the Royal Free or you know someone who was. 

The maternity centre at the Royal Free and their staff do an incredible job, supporting over 10,000 pregnancies every year from across Finchley and Golders Green to Hampstead and beyond. 

It’s been a pioneer in specialist care for decades delivering 1,700 births from high-risk pregnancies in the last five years.

Living locally, I have experienced first-hand the incredible work of the Royal Free hospital. I know so many friends who have seen their children and grandchildren born at the Royal Free. For decades the unit has been at the heart of the family of North London local maternity services. 

So, I was shocked to read that NHS chiefs are considering closing the maternity services and the neo-natal unit at the Royal Free.

I am campaigning against the closure and want to encourage as many local residents as possible to make their voice heard. 

I have started a petition to save the Royal Free’s maternity and neonatal unit. Every signature helps. You can sign the petition online at this link

NHS bosses cite staff shortages and a falling birth rate as the reason for the proposed closure. That fall in the birth rate has been driven by the lack of affordable housing in London and by Brexit. They argue that declining funding would be better spent upgrading maternity units in other hospitals in North London.

However, this is only one side of the story. 

In the last few weeks an official letter signed by more than 50 consultants and specialist midwives hit back, stating that “The only safe option is to keep the Royal Free maternity unit open, expand it and upgrade it”. 

Clinicians warn that closing the services at the Royal Free would put mothers with complex conditions at risk. The consultation, which focuses mainly on babies’ health, hasn’t fully considered women’s health. 

I’ve spoken to local medical professionals who echo this concern. The consultation also states that reducing the number of maternity units means that staff would be spread less thinly. In that case, surely the answer is to train and recruit more midwives and doctors and upgrade the existing services.

The Royal Free provides specialist services – like a haemophilia care unit, 24-hour radiology, renal and liver services – that are absent from other nearby hospitals. The consultation itself acknowledges that many pregnant women from other boroughs specifically choose to come to the Royal Free to give birth – no doubt for its excellent services, but also because other hospitals are under strain. 

University College Hospital – where I had my own children – continues to provide exceptional maternity services, including for many residents across Barnet, but it is stretched, delivering over 6,000 babies each year. Currently, the Royal Free supports the overflow from UCH and Barnet hospitals. That would be lost if the maternity unit is closed.

The Royal Free supports thousands of Barnet families especially from Finchley and Golders Green. Closing the maternity services is short sighted. 

People are being presented with two dire options: either close services at the Royal Free, or close those at the Whittington. These speak to the wider political and economic malaise, and underinvestment in health under this Conservative government. 

We should demand better. We should invest in the staff, the services and the equipment to ensure that not only are the maternity services at these hospitals fit for purpose, but that we are building in future capacity. 

Having a baby, by definition, involves planning for the long-term future. Our approach should be the same for our hospitals. The deadline for the consultation is 17th March – please join me in sharing your views here.

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