Pregnant women in the North East face being turned away from maternity units

Maternity unit closures.
Maternity unit closures.

Expectant mums in the region are among those who face being turned away due to maternity ward closures.

Hospitals across England temporarily closed their maternity wards to new admissions 382 times during 2016, compared to 375 times in 2015 and 225 times in 2014.

It is shameful that pregnant women are being turned away due to staff shortages, and shortages of beds and cots in maternity units

Jonathan Ashworth

The data, obtained by the Labour Party, found that in 2016 South Tyneside’s maternity unit closed once, the North Tees and Hartlepool Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust shut maternity units three times and North Durham Hospital in Durham City closed the unit 14 times.

City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust failed to provide the information in time.

The Labour Party said capacity issues and staff shortages were among the main causes of closures.

The figures were uncovered through freedom of information requests to 136 hospital trusts with maternity units in England.

Shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth,said: “These findings show the devastating impact which Tory underfunding is having for mothers and children across the country.

“It is staggering that almost half of maternity units in England had to close to new mothers at some point in 2016.

“The uncertainty for so many women just when they need the NHS most is unthinkable.

“Under this Government, maternity units are understaffed and under pressure.

“It’s shameful that pregnant women are being turned away due to staff shortages, and shortages of beds and cots in maternity units.”

Midwifery leaders called for action to tackle “significant pressures” on maternity services across England, which face a shortage of around 3,500 full-time midwives.

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.

“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.”

He added: “The RCM has warned time and time again that persistent understaffing does compromise safety and it’s about time the Government listened to those best placed to advise.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We want the NHS to be one of the safest places in the world to have a baby and patients should be reassured we continue to have enough midwives in the NHS.

“Temporary closures in NHS maternity units are well rehearsed safety measures which we expect trusts to use to safely manage peaks in admissions.

“To use these figures as an indication of safe staffing issues, particularly when a number of them could have been for a matter of hours, is misleading because maternity services are unable to plan the exact time and place of birth for all women in their care.”