Maternity Units Closed Due To Staff And Bed Shortages

Lack Of Resources Causing Problems For New Mothers

11.07.2014

Expectant women are being denied the chance to give birth at their local hospital due to maternity unit closures, figures obtained under a freedom of information request have revealed.

Data acquired by the BBC through this request revealed 62 out of the 121 trusts that responded had carried out temporary closures of such units in 2013. Of these, 12 per cent had closed their units ten or more times.

Nottingham was the location affected most by such closures, with the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust's two maternity hospitals - the Queen's Medical Centre and Nottingham City Hospital - closing 48 and 49 times respectively. There were also more than 80 closures at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.

A lack of services could lead to claims arising if women or their babies suffer health problems due to being unable to give birth or receive emergency treatment at their nearest maternity unit.

Responding to the figures, health minister Dan Poulter insisted that women enjoy "increased choice in maternity care" due to a near-doubling of midwifery-led units since 2010.

He commented: "There will always be very limited occasions when a maternity unit cannot safely accept more women into their care and may need to close temporarily.

"Any decisions to redirect women are made by clinicians as part of a carefully managed process."

The problem has arisen despite a rise in the number of midwives, up by 1,700 over the last four years to nearly 22,000. The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) believes this amounts to a shortfall of 4,500 due to the current birth rate, which is at its highest since the 1970s.

Discussing the situation, RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick said the number of babies being born is not the only challenge for maternity units.

"Services are seeing more pregnancies with greater levels of complications because of increases in obesity and older women giving birth, among many other reasons," she observed.

Expert Opinion
It is deeply concerning that over half of the NHS Trusts that responded to the request from the BBC closed the maternity wards due to shortages in staff and beds. It is important that this is addressed by the government and the NHS to make sure that these figures improve so that expectant women receive the care they deserve.

“We have seen first-hand the devastating problems that mothers and babies can face when there is the added risk of delay to access services at maternity units. Birth injuries and complications in pregnancy often lead to youngsters needing a lifetime of rehabilitation and care.

“The suggestion that the extent of the shortages is placing mothers and children at risk is a huge concern and this issue needs to be examined as a matter of clear urgency.

“Patient safety should always be a priority for both the NHS and government, and they need to show signs that action will be taken immediately on this very serious matter.”
Rachelle Mahapatra, Partner