Nearly half of England’s maternity units closed to new mothers at least once in 2017, shocking new figures have shown. A Freedom of Information request from Labour found that there were at least 287 instances where maternity units were closed to new mothers in 2017 – with eight trusts having closures lasting more than 24 hours.
The report comes at a time where a severe shortage of midwives in the industry could lead to a negative impact on maternity wards in the country: the Royal College of Midwives’ (RCM) latest estimate is that the National Health Service (NHS) in England has a shortage of 3,500 midwives. In 2016 the combined cost of bank staff, agency workers, and overtime cover pay for midwives reached £97m.
Responding to the statistics, CEO and general secretary of the RCM Gill Walton said safety in maternity services is paramount, which is why the RCM supports decisions made by midwife managers to close maternity units when levels of staffing are unsafe.
“Maternity units must be closed when failing to do so will compromise the safety of the service and the care already being received by women and their babies,” she added.
“Midwives and maternity support workers work tirelessly every day to deliver safe high-quality care and its important women who are currently pregnant are not distressed by this research.
“A priority going forward for all UK maternity services is continuity of carer and this would ensure every woman has a named midwife during pregnancy and one-to-one care in labour, so it’s never been more crucial that we have enough midwives and maternity support workers in our maternity services.”
Walton’s concerns about staffing issues are echoed by health bosses who report capacity and staffing issues as the most common reason for closures to the maternity wards.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth 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.”
[link url="http://www.nationalhealthexecutive.com/Health-Care-News/almost-half-of-maternity-units-closed-at-one-point-in-2017?dorewrite=false"]National Health Executive material[/link]