Reassurances are being offered to pregnant women after the Countess of Chester Hospital revealed higher risk babies are to be looked after at neighbouring hospitals because of an increase in neonatal mortality rates.
The temporary measure only relates to the most poorly babies, with high dependency needs, affecting one or two babies out of around 60 births during an average week.
For these women, the delivery of their babies is most likely to be at Arrowe Park Hospital, Wirral or another neighbouring unit based on availability managed by the regional network.
In the meantime, the Countess neonatal unit will focus predominantly on lower risk babies born after 32 weeks.
The decision has been taken with the support of the regional Cheshire and Merseyside Neonatal Care Network.
It follows an increase in neonatal mortality rates for 2015 and 2016 compared to previous years.
In an attempt to understand what is going on, the Countess has asked for an independent review of its neonatal service to be carried out by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and The Royal College of Nursing, which is expected to be completed by the end of August.
While this takes place, the Countess will be closing three intensive care cots at the Chester neonatal unit. A total of 13-cots will continue to provide specialist and high dependency care for newly born and premature babies born at 32-weeks and above.
Chief executive Tony Chambers said: “We have not taken the decision lightly and we are truly sorry for the inevitable inconvenience that this action will cause. However, it is important for us to fully understand the changes we are seeing in these neonatal mortality rates.
“At this time we are not in a position to share information about the number of cases. We want to be transparent, but this is sensitive information that forms part of the review and will be published when complete.”
The hospital had a Care Quality Commission inspection earlier this year (February) and the report revealed no concerns about the outcomes for babies.
Any expectant mums who would like further information should speak with their midwife or obstetrician for reassurance about their own personal circumstances.
The bereavement service will continue to support families who have sadly lost a baby at the Countess. And the hospital will keep in regular contact with those affected during the review.