THE temporary closure of maternity beds at Okehampton Hospital has been extended until December, NHS bosses revealed this week.

The Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (NEW Devon CCG) is blaming midwife shortages for the continued closure of the beds.

Women have not been able to give birth at Okehampton Hospital since midsummer last year, when the birthing unit was originally closed ‘temporarily’.

Antenatal and postnatal clinics continue to be run at the hospital and midwives are based there for home visits. However, women now have to travel to Exeter for a hospital birth.

A spokesperson for the NEW Devon CCG said: ‘We are working closely with the Royal Devon and Exeter (RD&E) NHS Foundation Trust, who provide the maternity services, to address this issue.

‘RD&E has confirmed the temporary suspension of deliveries and overnight stays remains in place at Okehampton for reasons of patient safety and will next be reviewed by the trust in December.

‘An increasing number of women with complex medical needs are choosing to give birth at RD&E’s main maternity facility in Exeter and the trust is deploying its midwifery workforce to safely meet the needs of these patients.’

Martin Perry, the chairman of the Friends of Okehampton Hospital, said: ‘This is not totally surprising news as we were only averaging one birth a week when the maternity unit was open.

‘Of course it’s a shame, everyone wants to have these maternity facilities as close to home as they can, but I’m afraid it is a fact of life. It is not just Okehampton, it is everywhere.’

However, town councillor Jan Goffey, leading the North Dartmoor Health Initiative, said the fight continued to keep the hospital open for the community.

‘At least they have said they are postponing the opening of the maternity beds, rather than closing them, and at all costs we must make sure that the antenatal and postnatal clinics continue. We’re still waiting for news from the CCG on the longterm future of the hospital,’ she said.

The Okehampton birth centre is open for clinics and midwife care and support 8am to 8pm, everyday. Outside of these hours women should call the RD&E main maternity triage service.