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Discharging mums hours after birth is dangerous, says GP

Plans to discharge new mothers from a Belfast hospital hours after they give birth will put women and babies at risk, a leading GP has warned.

As part of a swathe of cost-cutting measures currently under consideration by the Belfast Health Trust, women would be sent home from the Royal Victoria Jubilee Maternity Hospital between six and 12 hours after labour.

A patient liaison group at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital said it believed there were also plans to close a ward with the loss of up to 20 beds.

It is understood patients would only be sent home early if they had undergone a normal delivery.

Dr Brian Dunn, chairman of the British Medical Association’s Northern Ireland General Practitioner’s committee, has urged caution by the trust before such a plan is put in place.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Dr Dunn said he is concerned the health of mothers and their newborn babies could be put at risk by the proposals.

And he said such a move could lead to a greater number of women suffering with post natal depression.

As a result of both these factors, the already over-stretched primary care sector would come under even more pressure, Dr Dunn said.

He explained: “I am most concerned about this because of the safety aspect. Medical complications don’t necessarily come to light immediately after the birth, it could take a couple of days.

“By this time the new mum would be at home. Most GPs don’t have experience treating newborn babies, whereas in a labour ward there are paediatricians on call to look after them.

“Babies can develop problems which aren’t necessarily apparent at birth or the mum can develop post-partum haemorrhaging, which can be quite serious.

“There are also prescribing issues with young babies and I would be concerned that GPs will be relied upon to deal with this.

“The main thing is that you don’t know something is going to go wrong until it does, and then it is better to have access to the best possible treatment.

“Under these plans they would be transferred to general practice which raises workload issues as well. Don’t forget, we are discharging two people, the woman and her baby,” Dr Dunn said.

Nowadays, breastfeeding is recommended as the healthiest option but some women experience difficulties trying to feed their babies in this way.

Dr Dunn said allowing women time in hospital where they can receive help and advice on how to bond with and breastfeed their baby is vital.

“It can be very distressing for mums if they have problems breastfeeding and I think the plans will mean that post natal depression is more likely,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Belfast Health Trust said that there was no plans to close a ward at this stage. However, the spokesperson added that it was sharing ideas about how it can modernise the service, including the early transfer of patients to community-based midwives.

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