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Widespread opposition to maternity closure plan

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Opposition has been growing to a proposal by the Federal Excellence Centre for Health Care (KCE) to close down 17 of the country’s smaller maternity units.

The KCE identified nine units in Flanders and eight in Wallonia which failed to reach the number of births in a year considered enough for the unit to be cost-effective. The 17 units selected were also close enough to another unit that patients would still be able to get to hospital in a safe time limit.

One of the units identified, in Geraardsbergen in East Flanders, has already taken the decision to close down, before the KCE report was published. Pregnant women now have to go to Zottegem, Aalst or further afield, although there is still a pre- and post-natal clinic run by Kind & Gezin.

De Standaard spoke to Leanne (25) who gave birth to twins in Zottegem, despite being employed as a nurse at the general hospital in Geraardsbergen. “Of course I’d rather have given birth here,” she said. “It’s close by, and I know all the staff.”

The principled opposition to the KCE proposal came first from Joachim Coens, the new president of CD&V who is also one of the two politicians sent out by the king to feel out the political parties on the creation of a federal government. On Twitter, he wrote: “17 maternity units are under threat. Unacceptable for CD&V, the party of proximity. Giving birth is part of basic care. You can’t just close down 17 maternity units. Proximity is important.”

CD&V have been joined by socialist party PS and green party Ecolo in opposing the proposal “firmly”.

Pointing out that the measure if adopted would mean the closure of one in four maternity clinics in Wallonia, PS deputy Eliane Tillieux said, “The maternity units need to remain a service of proximity, financially and geographically accessible to the public, and not a product of economic profitability. The quality of care for women and for newborns should be at the heart of our political decisions. The economic argument for closing the maternity clinics is not our conception of health care.”

If the minister wants to achieve some savings, she needs to review her policy on medications, which are too expensive and over-consumed in this country,” added Laurence Hennuy of Ecolo, who sits on the parliament’s health committee.

Meanwhile in Flanders, where eight clinics are under threat, the professional association for the region’s midwives joined the outcry.

This reduces giving birth to an act that has to make money, noting more,” the organisation said. “Quantity alone here is being used as a measure of quality. Whatever might look good from an economic point of view is not necessarily good for the patient.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times