GUARANTEES have been made that a west Oxfordshire maternity unit, which was closed over staff and patient concerns, will reopen.

The Oxford Mail can reveal that births were suspended at the Cotswold Maternity Unit based in Chipping Norton over concerns about the number of women who were referred on to a main hospital even though it had been intended they would give birth there.

The Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the service, said it had taken the decision to suspend births ‘with immediate effect’ from 4pm on Thursday.

It said it took the decision after staff and patients raised concerns, and it has now launched an internal review.

Jane Hervé, a newly appointed head of midwifery at the trust, will now lead the review into all aspects of the unit’s working practices.

It is expected to take three months.

She said: “It is not just one issue, it is a number of things that have come to light, which we have now got to explore.

“For example, the expected transfer rate from the Cotswold unit to the consultant led team at the JR and the Horton has been higher than other years.

“It doesn’t mean that there is a problem, but we do monitor the trends as part of good working practices.

“At the moment, the transfer rate is 45 per cent. For a standalone unit like the Cotswold, we would expect it to be around 25 per cent.”

She added: I can guarantee the unit will reopen.”

The midwife-led unit, opened by David Cameron last year, is run by midwives without all the medical facilities of a hospital.

Because the majority of women can give birth without needing medical interventions it can be preferable to going to hospital.

However, if complications arise during pregnancy women may be advised to give birth at a main obstetric unit.

Ms Hervé said she could not give details on whether any of the concerns which had been raised about the unit had been done so via whistleblowers.

She also refused to say if anyone had been suspended as part of the review.

Between April 2009 and March 2010, 159 babies were born under the care of the unit. The following year that fell to 92, and during the last year there have been 117 babies born.

Since April this year, 33 babies have been born there.

The unit will remain staffed and open during the day to provide women and their families with antenatal support, breast feeding advice and support, baby hearing tests and postnatal care.

Women from Chipping Norton and the surrounding areas will continue to have a choice of where to give birth, including the Horton Hospital, in Banbury, the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, home birth and Warwick Hospital.