Maternity units forced to close across the UK

In 2017, 11 NHS trust disclosed they had been forced to close maternity units more than 10 times during the year, due to shortage of staff. Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by Labour identified 300 occasions where maternity units were closed and mothers were sent elsewhere, due to lack of capacity, resourcing and staffing issues.

Jonathan Ashworth Shadow of Heath Secretary stated there is an urgent need to improve resources, calling the statistic ‘a disgrace.’

The Royal College of Midwifery warned

NHS England remains 3500 midwives short of the number of midwives it needs to deliver a safe and high-quality maternity service.

135 FOI requests were made to hospital trusts in England, asking how and why maternity units had been closed to new admissions during 2017. 89 trusts responded: 41 had experienced closures. In total, there were 287 occasions when maternity units closed their doors to expectant mothers, with 11 trusts stating they were forced to close more than 10 times during the year.

The Bristol NHS Unit closed 29 times during 2017-2018 New Year due to high demand. In Weston-Super-Mare Somerset, the unit was closed for 3 weeks, whilst another in Dorset closed 16 times during the year due to insufficient staff.

The figures show clearly that certain units across regions are unable to cope with the demand, lacking staff.  Ashworth stated maternity units are understaffed and under pressure;

It is a disgrace that almost half of maternity units in England had to close to new mothers at some point in 2017.

Department of Health and Social Care stated that maternity unit temporary closures are well rehearsed; and there are well established systems in place to redirect women to the next available unit.

To use these figures as an indication of safe staffing issues, particularly when a number of them could have been for a matter of hours, is misleading because maternity services are unable to plan the exact time and place of birth for all women in care.

NHS leaves 1 in 4 women alone during childbirth or labour

Another in depth study found conducted by NHS Watchdog, Care Quality Commission, found that 1 in 4 women felt they were left alone during labour or birth. The survey revealed that most mothers were satisfied with the quality of care received, with women being offered where to give birth.

However the NCT parenting charity and childbirth campaigners, found that CQC’s findings showed that 23% of 18,426 women surveyed were worried by being left alone without a midwife or doctor present during their labour or birth.

The number of women left alone in labour has reduced by 3% since the survey was last undertaken in 2015. Senior policy adviser for NCT Elizabeth Duff stated the statistic reinforces low staffing levels; midwives are stretched to the limit.

Midwives end up looking after several women giving birth simultaneously – we continue to call on government to address the midwife shortage.

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