Maternity unit closures highlighted in new data
New research published today (28 August) shows that nearly half of England’s maternity units closed to new mothers at some point in 2017.
Data by the Labour Party obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that there were at least 287 occasions when maternity units were closed to new mothers in 2017.
Some 41 hospital trusts, which responded to an FOI request, said they temporarily closed maternity wards to new admissions at some point in 2017.
There were eight trusts that had closures lasting more than 24 hours, while 11 trusts shut temporarily on more than 10 separate occasions each in 2017.
The most common reason for closures was capacity and staffing issues.
Commenting on the research RCM CEO Gill Walton highlighted that safety in maternity services is paramount and that is why the RCM respects and supports decisions made by midwife managers to close maternity units when levels of staffing are not safe.
She said: ‘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.
‘We know trusts are facing huge pressures to save money demanded by the government, but this cannot be at the expense of safety. We remain 3500 midwives short in England and if some maternity units regularly have to close their doors it suggests there is an underlying problem around capacity staffing levels.’
Gill added that while some progress has been made in the past year, the RCM is working with the government and Health Education England to ensure maternity services are safe and midwife numbers increase.
In April, the then secretary of state for health and social care Jeremy Hunt announced plans to train an additional 3000 more midwives over the next four years. But Gill says that what is needed now is a commitment from the government that NHS trusts are going to get an increase in funding that they so desperately need so they can employ the new midwives.
She added that the recent pay agreement between the health unions and the government after seven years of pay freezes will help maternity services to retain the midwives they have and it will aid the recruitment of more into the profession.
‘Midwives and MSWs work tirelessly every day to deliver safe high-quality care and it’s important women who are currently pregnant are not distressed by this research,’ said Gill.
‘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 MSWs in our maternity services,’ she added.