Thousands of expectant mothers are being turned away from maternity wards because of staff shortages and a lack of available beds, it was reported yesterday.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show maternity wards in England are shutting their doors more than 1,000 times a year, forcing mothers-to-be to seek urgent medical care elsewhere.
The Sunday Telegraph said the figure is expected to be much higher, when taking into account every health trust in the country – including many of those who failed to respond to the request for information.
Figures obtained by the newspaper say more than 1,700 women have been turned away over the past two years.
Patients who went to attend labour units then had to either travel up to 65 miles to the nearest ward with an available bed, or give birth at home, it said.
At Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, units closed 353 times in 24 months at two hospitals – although the trust said the closure of one unit meant patients were sent to its other site, a short distance away.
In most cases, a lack of beds or “capacity” was cited as the reason for closures, which typically lasted several hours at a time and sometimes saw wards shut for several days, the newspaper said.
Shortages of midwives, consultants, anaesthetists and other medical staff were the other major cause for turning women away as staff decided it would be unsafe to admit new patients.
Leeds Teaching Hospitals said it ran an “integrated service” between its two maternity units, which are around two miles apart. A spokesman said: “Inevitably at times demand can be unpredictable and if one location gets too busy we have the ability to divert mums-to-be to our neighbouring facility. The number of times we have closed the whole service is low – just four times in the last two years.
“Since early this year we have started to triage all women before they arrive at the hospital through our Maternity Assessment Centre.When they report possible labour, we advise which delivery suite is currently taking admissions.”