A PUBLIC consultation on the future of north Essex’s maternity services will be launched next month.

It will centre on whether maternity units in Clacton and Harwich should be open for births 24/7 or only be opened at the request of a pregnant woman who will imminently give birth.

The consultation, to be run by the North East Essex clinical commissioning group, will run from October 15 to December 10 and will include a series of public events in Colchester, Clacton and Harwich.

There will also be online surveys, displays in maternity units in Harwich, Clacton and at Colchester General Hospital, drop in events at children’s centres and a stand at an NCT Nearly New sale.

It has been delayed a fortnight so it does not clash with the Clacton parliamentary by-election triggered by MP Douglas Carswell, who defected from the Conservatives to Ukip.

Staff shortages at Colchester General Hospital led Colchester Hospitals Trust to temporarily shut the 24/7 Clacton and Harwich units for all births in March.

They were reopened on an “on-demand” basis in July.

Once a mum has given birth in Clacton or Harwich, they are either discharged when ready or sent to Colchester General Hospital for more care, as they cannot stay overnight.

A report on the consultation, to be discussed by an Essex County Council panel next week, states maternity services will remain at Colchester, Clacton, Harwich and Halstead hospitals.

However, NHS bosses are also looking at whether to offer more pre and post birth care at people’s homes, children’s centres and GP surgeries.

The two options will be assessed on factors including their effectiveness, safety, efficency and the results of the consultation.

A final decision will be made in January next year.