The maternity unit at the Mater Hospital will become a midwife-led facility under plans to overhaul maternity services in Belfast.
The proposals to modernise maternity services will mean that women who are at low of risk of complications during labour and do not have any pre-existing medical conditions will be able to give birth at the north Belfast hospital.
However, anyone who may require medical intervention will deliver their baby at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital where doctors will be on hand to assist if required.
The Belfast Health & Social Care Trust has launched a 12-week public consultation which recommends provision of a freestanding midwife-led unit at the Mater Hospital while basing consultants on the Royal site.
The trust said that this model would give women more choice and improve patient care by amalgamating the consultants on one site — which would also improve the training and supervision of junior doctors.
The consultation document has been launched after Health Minister Edwin Poots released his strategy for maternity services in Northern Ireland in which he called for more women to deliver babies without medical interventions, such as Caesarean section.
Northern Ireland currently has the highest number of Caesarean sections in the UK. Breedagh Hughes, director of the Royal College of Midwives in Northern Ireland, welcomed the direction of travel for maternity services being proposed by the trust.
“We think it is a very sensible way forward because it will help to normalise birth. You do find that women who go into a medical environment are more likely to end up having a Caesarean section,” she said.