Stoke & Staffordshire

Stoke-on-Trent breastfeeding support service cut

Image caption A breastfeeding support service has been axed amid concerns it does not provide value for money

The loss of a breastfeeding support service - cut amid claims it wastes money - has prompted fears new mothers will struggle for help.

Stoke-on-Trent's Community Breastfeeding Team is provided by the local NHS, which says breastfeeding rates in the city are lower than the national average.

But the council, which commissions the care and advice package, says numbers have not improved.

It says it will not renew the contract.

The service is therefore due to expire on 31 August.

Kayleigh Wakelin, from Packmoor, used the support service for her baby two years ago and said it was "upsetting" parents had not been consulted.

"We haven't been given any idea of what is going to be left for mums," she said, adding she had struggled with pain when feeding her daughter.

She said if the service had not been there, she may have stopped breastfeeding at four or five weeks, rather than continuing for seven months.

Another mum told the BBC the team did "vital work" and had "rescued" people.

Image caption Breastfeeding peer supporter Melinda O'Brien says the loss is devastating

The city council said it recognised that breastfeeding made a "key contribution to a child's health", and acknowledged lower-than-average rates.

But it said the decision not to renew the contract was precisely because there had been no upswing in numbers.

According to a spokesperson, the move was about "providing value-for-money services that make a real difference to people's lives".

Current arrangements, he said, were "not delivering the outcomes" wanted by the council, and as such were "unacceptable".

It is understood the annual cost of the contract over the last four years has been £170,000.

The council said it was unable to provide an accurate number of users.

Ongoing health

An expansion of an existing breastfeeding peer support programme would be investigated as an alternative, the authority said.

But peer supporter Melinda O'Brien said losing the NHS community team service was "devastating, not only to Stoke-on-Trent's mothers but also the ongoing health" of the city.

Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (MPFT), which delivered the service, said it regretted the council's decision.

It said it was in discussion over enhancing peer support, with professional support continuing to be provided by health visitors and midwives.

An MPFT spokesperson told the BBC the council had made a decision based on national measures which monitored initiation rates - breastfeeding within 48 hours of birth - and maintenance rates - breastfeeding at six to eight weeks.

Both measures, she said, were "significantly lower in Stoke-on-Trent than the national average".

The council said it had in fact seen a reduction in the number of local women who initiated breastfeeding within 48 hours of delivery.

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