Breastfeeding mothers in Stoke-on-Trent are about to lose yet more vital support services after plans set to cut the Infant Feeding Team service are to take place from September 1st.
The financial cuts are set to come from Stoke-on-Trent City Councils public health budget.
The service, based out of Cobridge health centre, which was set up under the name Mum2Mum over 10 years ago, aims to help all breastfeeding mothers through a range of cafes and clinics.
They were also able to offer services such as tongue tie revision, which can be vital to establish long term breastfeeding, and ran a 24/7 helpline available 365 days a year.
Since March the helpline has been reduced to only office hours and facilities have merged with a support team in Leek to create a new, and reduced, Infant Feeding Team.
The new plans, set to take effect in under two weeks, will see the staff reduced further – to just 2.2 facilitators and one member of admin staff to support the whole of Stoke-on-Trent.
The helpline may also be scrapped completely. Clinics have now also been reduced to referral only.
The service has been under threat for the past few years due to budget cuts.
In 2011 MP for Stoke-on-Trent North Joan Walley expressed her concern for the funding of these services.
Graham Urwin, Chief Executive for Stoke-on-Trent NHS Trust, confirmed that they would continue their funding, which was due to reduce in 2011, for an extra financial year through the Department of Health.
In his letter he stated:
‘We are committed to investment in breast feeding and achieving the UNICEF Baby Friendly Award, which includes supporting Mum2Mum.’
This support network and professional advice has been vital to mums such as first time mum Nicola Ryan:
‘Their support was vital.
‘She probably would have ended up in hospital again and been tube fed for longer if it wasn’t for their support.
‘They also helped me emotionally as I relied on the telephone support out of hours too.’
Before Infant Feeding Teams were merged, the service provide by Leek Health Centre ran cafes all over North Staffordshire, including Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Most of these cafes stopped running in March.
Since then some mums have taken it upon themselves to set up their own support groups where services are missing, but this does not offer the medical support that is often needed, such as tongue tie revision.
Samantha Medlock, mum to one-year-old Roxanne, helps to run her own peer support group in Chesterton.
‘Although we can’t provide specialist advice, we found that having a group of like minded mums who have been through the same difficulties was near enough as important as having a medical professionals help.
‘To have someone to say ‘it’s normal’ what you’re going through.’
As news of the cuts is spreading, having only been confirmed yesterday, more concerns are coming to light, including long-term health worries and overstretching in other areas of the NHS.
Nicola Keeling, a former chair for the North Staffordshire National Childbirth Trust, said:
‘I understand that many health professionals signposted to the Infant Feeding Team so they may find that they are more stretched and haven’t got the expertise to draw on.
‘Unless more health visitors and midwives are being brought in to help, I don’t see how mums will get the support needed.’
Sarah Page, a lecturer in sociology at Staffordshire University, who worked with Health Action Zone who helped to fund Mum2Mum, also has her concerns on its impact on the city.
‘With the wider financial cuts to families by the government I am concerned about the impact that reduced breastfeeding rates will have on a families economic well-being.
‘The savings from not having to buy formula or bottles or sterilising equipment is really helpful for all families.
‘By reducing the service there may be families pushed into having to make an unnecessary financial outlay due to missing out on information and support.’
However, the many mums that have been helped, many of whom have trained as peer supporters within the service, aren’t prepared to take this lying down.
An emergency meeting will be held on Monday 24th August at 10.30am at City Waterside Community Centre, Dresden Street, Hanley.
Jennifer Phillips, a trained peer supporter, said:
‘We want to come together to figure out how we can fight the cuts.
‘We want to coordinate the huge number of people who are upset and angry so we can stand together and make a difference.’
Anybody interested in attending the meeting to air their views is free to do so.
There is free parking and older children and partners are also welcome.
Refreshments will be available for purchase as well as toys for the little ones.