Many NHS maternity wards had to shut their doors to expectant mothers in England in the past year over shortage of staff or lack of beds.
Data obtained by the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act shows that 62 trusts out of 121 respondents – or 51% – temporarily closed units in 2013, compared to 66 NHS trusts closing their doors in 2011 and 2012 reported by Sunday Telegraph last year.
In 2008, Conservative Party research found 42% of trusts closed their maternity units at least once. Many wards were closed only for a few hours, but in the past year some wards have closed their doors to new patients for more than 48 hours until pressures had eased.
Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust topped the chart with 97 closures, followed by Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust closing 89 times and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS trust on 86 occasions.
Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS trust, which attracted national attention last year for its maternity services on Channel Four’s programme One Born Every Minute claimed “it was rare that its entire maternity service was shut”.
A spokesman for the trust said: “The number of times we have closed the whole service is low – just four times in the last two years.”
Mounting pressure is leading some trusts to close every other day. Staff in certain units consider it unsafe to admit new patients due to lack of beds, shortage of midwives, consultants, anaesthetists and other medical staff.
Four out of six respondents in Wales also experienced closures while Scotland and Northern Ireland did not report any closures.
Despite the strain on some units health minister Dr Dan Poulter believes that NHS trusts in England remains “one of the safest places in the world to give birth”.
Dr Dan commented: “Units closed on limited occasion. Government had increased choice in maternity care, the number of midwifery-led units had almost doubled since 2010. 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.”
Josh De Souza Crook