Daily Mail

Lack of staff saw four in ten maternity units turn away expectant mothers

- By Shaun Wooller Health Editor

Pregnant women were forced to travel to alternativ­e maternity units when four in ten temporaril­y closed last year due to lack of staff.

Some hospitals turned expectant mothers away for weeks at a time, an alarming investigat­ion reveals.

It means the women were unable to give birth at the maternity unit or birth centre closest to their home or with midwives they wanted. experts warn this could have been detrimenta­l to mothers and babies as studies show maintainin­g continuity of care leads to better health outcomes.

the figures were obtained by the Labour Party, which sent Freedom of Informatio­n (FOI) requests to 194 trusts asking about service closures due to staff shortages.

It received responses from 142, of which 93 had maternity units or birthing centres and 38 – 41 per cent – had temporaril­y closed. Latest figures show the NHS is short of 124,000 staff including 44,000 nurses. Over the period covered by the FOI, from november 2021 to October 2022, the number of midwives employed by the NHS fell.

Maternity units must close temporaril­y and direct women to the next available service when failing to do so will ‘compromise the safety of the service and the care already being received by women and their babies’. a shortage of maternity staff has been repeatedly raised as a matter of concern by Care Quality Commission inspectors. James titcombe, ambassador for the charity Baby Lifeline, said: ‘ the government must urgently commit to a fully funded workforce plan in maternity services to address staffing shortages.’

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said: ‘the government’s long-overdue national workforce plan for the NHS can’t come soon

‘Peaks in admissions’

enough, but it must be fullyfunde­d if we’re going to fix the major workforce shortages.’

a Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘temporary closures in NHS maternity units are wellrehear­sed safety measures, which trusts use to safely manage peaks in admissions.’

the royal College of Midwives and NHS england were approached for comment.

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