Lack of staff forced four in 10 NHS maternity units to turn down expectant mothers last year, alarming study finds
- Women could not give birth in the maternity ward closest to their home
- Latest figures show the NHS is short of 124,000 staff, including 44,000 nurses
Pregnant women were forced to travel to alternative maternity units when four in ten were temporarily closed last year due to lack of staff.
Some hospitals have turned expectant mothers away for weeks, an alarming study has found.
It means the women couldn’t give birth in the maternity ward or birthing center closest to their home or the midwives they wanted. Experts warn that this could be harmful to mothers and babies, as studies show that maintaining continuity of care leads to better health outcomes.
The figures were obtained by the Labor Party, which has sent freedom of information requests (FOI) to 194 trusts asking about service closures due to staff shortages.
It received responses from 142, of which 93 had maternity wards or birth centers and 38 – 41 percent – were temporarily closed.
The latest figures show the NHS is short of 124,000 staff, including 44,000 nurses. In the period covered by the FOI, from November 2021 to October 2022, the number of midwives employed by the NHS has fallen.
Women could not give birth in the maternity ward or birthing center closest to their home or to the midwife they wanted
Maternity wards must temporarily close and refer women to the next available shift if this does not “compromise the safety of the service and the care already being received by women and their babies.”
A shortage of maternity staff has repeatedly been raised as a concern by inspectors from the Care Quality Commission.
James Titcombe, ambassador for the charity Baby Lifeline, said: ‘The Government urgently needs to commit to a fully funded maternity care workforce plan to address staff shortages.’
Sir Julian Hartley, CEO of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said: ‘The government’s much anticipated national staffing plan for the NHS cannot come soon enough, but it needs to be fully funded if we are to solve the major staff shortages.’
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘Temporary closures in NHS maternity units are well-practiced safety measures, which trusts use to safely manage peak admissions.’
The Royal College of Midwives and NHS England were approached for comment.