Maternity units forced to close once a week
MATERNITY units in Greater Manchester were forced to close on average once a week last year because they didn’t have the staff or space to be run safely.
Worrying figures also revealed that on one occasion St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester had to divert mums-to-be elsewhere for almost 24 because it was full.
According to Labour, this is just a snapshot of the looming crisis faced by the country’s maternity services. Figures obtained hours by the party show that during 2017, pregnant women had to be turned away from the region’s closed maternity units on at least 64 occasions – that is once every six days on average. The majority of these occurred at the Royal Oldham (15), Stepping Hill (16) and Wythenshawe (14), which recorded more than a dozen divert occasions each.
There were six or less closures reported each by Bolton (3), Tameside (4), Wigan Infirmary (6), North Manchester General (2) and St Mary’s Hospital (4).
No data was available for Salford Royal, which axed its maternity services in September last year.
Hospital chiefs blamed having to shut on a lack of staff and beds to care for patients.
This was supported by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), which estimates there is currently a shortage of around 3,500 midwives nationally.
The RCM added that it fully backed the decision by hospitals to close maternity units, saying that the safety of mothers and babies was a priority.
Labour sent Freedom of Information requests to each of the country’s 135 hospital trusts, and received 89 responses.
Of those, nearly half (41) confirmed it had closed maternity units to new mothers at some point during 2017.
Eight trusts had closures lasting more than 24 hours, while 11 trusts (including three in Greater Manchester) shut temporarily on more than 10 separate occasions each. Gill Walton, general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said it was important that expectant mothers were not distressed by the find- ●● ings. Safety in our maternity services is paramount and that is why the RCM respects and supports decisions made by midwife managers to close maternity units when levels of staffing are not safe,” she said.
“We remain 3,500 midwives short in England and if some maternity units regularly have to close their doors it suggests there is an underlying problem around capacity staffing levels.”
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “Expectant mothers deserve reassurance that the local maternity unit will be there for them when needed. It is a disgrace that almost half of maternity units in England had to close to new mothers at some point in 2017. The uncertainty for so many women just when they need the NHS most is unthinkable.”
A spokesman for Stockport NHS Foundation Trust said: “Unfortunately last year we had to divert women requiring care to nearby hospitals with maternity facilities. Diver- sions are undertaken only in exceptional circumstances to protect the safety and wellbeing of our mothers and babies.”
Simon Mehigan, divisional director Midwifery and Gynaecology at the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group for The Royal Oldham and North Manchester General Hospitals, said: “Last year we helped deliver around 9,000 babies across our two maternity units at The Royal Oldham and North Manchester General Hospitals.
“Patient safety is our number one priority and so when we are forced to temporarily close our labour wards and redirect patients to our other site or a neighbouring hospital, this is only ever done to ensure the safety of the women we provide care to.
“Further investment in our staffing, successful recruitment of more midwives, and changes in how we use our staff and our physical beds has meant we have only had to close our maternity service once since January of this year.”
Stepping Hill and Royal Oldham are two of the hospitals most affected