Barking MP criticises closure of major east London maternity unit

An MP who campaigned for the reopening of Barking Hospital maternity unit has criticised health chiefs after it emerged a major east London birth unit would close next year.

Margaret Hodge attacked the decision to shut King George Hospital birth centre in Goodmayes, which deals with more than 2,000 deliveries every year including Barking babies.

Barking Hospital in Upney Lane is to start welcoming mums-to-be this autumn but will only be able to have up to 700 births a year - a fifth of the total number in Barking and Dagenham in 2011.

The MP for Barking warned that expectant mothers would be forced to travel to other birth centres outside the borough including Newham Hospital.

She said: “We need more not fewer local health services. The maternity wards opening at Barking Hospital is good news for mums with straightforward births.

“However, the news that people will be forced to travel to Newham will be a problem for families travelling to see their loved ones. That could be as many as three bus journeys away for people living on Thames View estate.

“I’m going to keep fighting to keep local health services.”

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Government statistics show there were 3,688 births in Barking and Dagenham last year and the birth rate was 89 per 1,000, compared to 65 per 1,000 in England and Wales.

But health chiefs said the King George maternity closure, scheduled for early 2013, would enable them to concentrate medium to high-risk deliveries on fewer sites, thereby giving increased medical support for women who need it.

They added mums would be able to go to several birth centres in Barking and Newham as well as a new unit set to open at Queen’s Hospital in Romford early next year.

A spokesman for North East London and the City NHS Trust said: “This new maternity plan is designed to help us provide safe, high-quality maternity services at local hospitals.

“Most women will notice no difference. Many of those women who will be asked to go to a different hospital actually live closer to those hospitals in any case.”

Barking Hospital maternity unit closed in the Nineties but a new one opened earlier this year after a lengthy campaign by Margaret Hodge.