HEALTH chiefs have ordered a review following a rise in neonatal mortality rates at the Countess of Chester Hospital.

Only 'lower risk babies' will be cared for at the hospital while the investigation is carried out, with 'high dependency' births taking place elsewhere.

Bosses at the NHS trust which runs the hospital have confirmed that until findings are published in August, the focus will be on tots born after 32 weeks.

Three intensive care cots will be closed at the Countess neonatal unit, with 13 remaining open to “provide specialist and high dependency care for newly born and premature babies born at 32-weeks and above”, the trust has said.

On an average week, 60 babies are born on the maternity unit with only one or two mums giving birth before 32 weeks.

For these women the delivery of their babies is most likely to be at Arrowe Park Hospital, in Wirral or another neighbouring unit based on availability managed by the regional network.

Tony Chambers, chief executive at the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We have not taken the decision lightly and we are truly sorry for the inevitable inconvenience that this action will cause. However, it is important for us to fully understand the changes we are seeing in these neonatal mortality rates.

“At this time we are not in a position to share information about the number of cases. We want to be transparent, but this is sensitive information that forms part of the review and will be published when complete.”

The decision was taken with the support of the regional Cheshire and Merseyside Neonatal Care Network.

The Government's health watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, inspected the hospital in February this year and found no cause for concern about outcomes for babies

Nevertheless, the hospital trust said in a statement on its website that it had seen an increase in neonatal mortality rates for 2015 and 2016 compared to previous years.

It stated: “In light of this, we have asked for an independent review of our neonatal service from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and The Royal College of Nursing, which is expected to be completed by the end of August.”