Around four in 10 of England’s maternity units were forced to close temporarily at least once during 2016, a new analysis highlighting the increased strains on the NHS reveals.
According to data obtained by Labour through freedom of information requests to 136 hospital trusts with maternity wards in England, 42 out of the 96 that responded said they had temporarily closed their facilities to expectant mothers.
In total, there were 382 occasions in 2016 when maternity units had to close their doors – a 70 per cent increase from 2014, according to the analysis by Labour.
Within the responses the maternity unity at St Helens & Knowsley teaching hospitals had to close for more than 30 hours in February 2016 due to issues with bed capacity and high activity.
And to “maintain safety and staffing levels” the maternity unit at Royal Berkshire NHS foundation trust had to close on 30 occasions in the same year.
The party’s Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said the findings were evidence of the “devastating” impact that underfunding is having for mothers and children across the country. “It is staggering that almost half of maternity units in England had to close to new mothers at some point in 2016,” he said.
Mr Ashworth continued: “The uncertainty for so many women just when they need the NHS most is unthinkable. Under this Government, maternity units are understaffed and under pressure. It’s shameful that pregnant women are being turned away due to staff shortages, and shortages of beds and cots in maternity units.
“Families are being sorely let down by this Government’s failure to recognise the crisis facing our NHS. The Tories need to get a grip and take urgent action to make sure closures like this don’t continue to happen.”
Midwifery leaders called for action to tackle “significant pressures” on maternity services across England, which face a shortage of around 3,500 full-time midwives.