STAFF shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic have forced health chiefs to close a Hampshire maternity unit for at least three months.

More than 3,400 babies have been delivered at the New Forest Birth Centre (NFBC) since the facility opened at Ashurst Hospital in 2008.

But no new births will take place at the centre until January next year at the earliest.

Daily Echo:

Women who were hoping to use the facility are being told they can either give birth at home or at the Broadlands Birth Centre, part of the Princess Anne Hospital, Southampton.

Birth centres are midwife-led units that aim to provide mums-to-be with a homely and more relaxed atmosphere than hospitals.

They are available to women who are experiencing low-risk pregnancies and are likely to have a normal delivery.

Former NFBC patients have taken to social media to voice their dismay at the closure.

One woman posted: "I had both my children at NFBC and have recommended it to all my friends ever since. Such a lovely place and the care was faultless."

One added: "I really hope this decision is reversed in January.

"Such a lovely place and the staff were amazing. I've only every heard positive comments from others who have had babies there."

Daily Echo:

The birth centre is run by the University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust.

A spokesperson said: "The decision to temporarily close the New Forest Birth Centre has been taken to ensure we can continue to provide the safest possible care for our families.

"Having reviewed our current and projected staffing levels over the next few months, we have concluded that we would not be able to adequately staff the centre.

The safety of our staff is also paramount and, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of our colleagues have been unable to return to their substantive roles, meaning fewer midwives and support staff are available.

"As a result the decision, which will be reviewed regularly, has been taken to close the centre until January 2021.

"There will then be a further review of staff levels to decide whether it can safely reopen.

"Our staff have been informed and will transfer to the Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton and our home birth services.

"Expectant mums who call the labour line will be able to discuss the options for Broadlands birth centre or labour ward at Princess Anne Hospital or opt for a home birth.

"This change does not affect antenatal and post-natal services which will continue to run at the New Forest Birth Centre."