‘Understaffing causes closures’ says RCM on new Labour Party research

By RCM on 07 August 2017 Labour Party Research Maternity Unit Closures Midwife Shortage RCM England Women Safety

Research published today (Tuesday August 8th) by the Labour party has further revealed the extent of the staffing crisis affecting England’s maternity services.

This latest research shows that nearly half of England’s maternity units closed to new mothers at some point during 2016.

The data which was obtained by Labour under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) also shows that;

  • 42 hospital trusts which responded to an FOI request say they temporarily closed maternity wards to new admissions at some point in 2016
  • Some closures lasted more than 24 hours, while over ten trusts shut temporarily on more than ten separate occasions each
  • In 2016 there were 382 occasions when units had to close their doors, a 70 per cent increase from 2014
  • Hospitals report capacity and staffing issues as most common reason for closures

Responding to the research, Sean O’Sullivan Head of Health and Social Policy at The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said; “This latest research from the Labour Party  comes as no surprise to the RCM and really further proves just how badly England’s maternity services are struggling due to understaffing.

“Some of these temporary closures highlighted in Labour’s report reflect the significant pressures on maternity services across England, which remain 3,500 full time midwives short of the minimum number needed. Trusts are also facing huge pressures to save money demanded by the Government, but this cannot be at the expense of safety.

“Midwife managers work incredibly hard to keep services safe and to provide high quality care, but they cannot do this without the correct levels of funding and resources to employ enough midwives.

“The RCM respects and supports decisions made to close maternity units when failing to do this will compromise the safety of the service and the women and babies already being cared for. Nevertheless, if units are regularly and persistently having to close their doors it suggests there is an underlying problem around capacity and staffing levels that needs immediate attention.

“When units close their doors women diverted to another unit may be upset and disappointed because they are not giving birth in the unit of their choice. It is also very worrying for women who may be in labour and may be distressed to have to travel to another unit, possibly some miles away.

“The RCM has warned time and time again that persistent understaffing does compromise safety and its about time the Government listened to those best place to advise.”


Notes to editors

'Act now to avert growing crisis in our maternity services’ says RCM as it launches its latest report’

Read RCM’s Full State of Maternity Services Report 2016 (published February 2017)

To contact the RCM Press Office call 020 7312 3456, or email [email protected].



The RCM is the only trade union and professional association dedicated to serving midwifery and the whole midwifery team. We provide workplace advice and support, professional and clinical guidance and information, and learning opportunities with our broad range of events, conferences and online resources. For more information visit the RCM website at https://www.rcm.org.uk/