MATERNITY services in Burnley and Blackburn have been hailed ‘the best in England’ after winning a national midwifery award.

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust has been named the ‘Maternity Service of the Year’ at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) annual awards, after being praised for supporting staff, promoting ‘normal births’ and reducing caesarean section rates.

The controversial closure of Blackburn’s doctor-led maternity unit in 2010 was cited as a key reason for improved care, as the trust has been able to focus specialist care at Burnley General Hospital.

The closure also brought the development of three midwife-led birthing centres, in Burnley, Blackburn and Rossendale.

Head of midwifery Anita Fleming, who was also nominated for an individual award, said: “It’s great that East Lancashire can now be recognised as an outstanding example of normal birth promotion and innovative maternity services.”

Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle said: “This is fantastic news and I’m really proud of them.

“I think this absolutely justifies the decision to centralise the main maternity services in Burnley, because we’ve now got the best building and the best staff.”

The three birthing centres, for women expected to have a straightforward pregnancy, now deliver almost a third of East Lancashire’s babies. About 14 per cent of births take place at the ‘freestanding’ units, compared to about two per cent nationally.

The trust’s matron Melanie Robinson was also nominated for an award. The ceremony was held in London on Wednesday and hosted by Natasha Kaplinsky.