Half of maternity wards had to shut last year due to “shameful” lack of staff or beds

One hospital said it had to turn away expectant mothers 30 times in 2016 because of "insufficient midwifery staffing for workload"

Maternity wards are seriously struggling to cope with a staffing crisis and funding cuts, shocking new figures revealed today.

Over 40 per cent of maternity units had to turn away expectant mothers at least once last year, new figures have revealed.

42 of 96 hospital trusts in England said they had had to temporarily close maternity units on 382 occasions last year, information obtained by the Labour Party showed.

In 2016 maternity units were closed on 382 separate occasions, compared with 375 in 2015 and 225 in 2014 — that’s a 70 per cent increase in two years.

Hospitals reported that a lack of staff and shortage of beds were the most common reason for the closures.

NHS services in England are currently short of 3,500 full-time midwives, the Royal College of Midwives warned.

The staffing situation is compounded by the fact that, for the first time in the NHS’s history, more midwives and nurses are leaving the health service than joining it.

Some of the individual hospital trusts’ responses to the Freedom of Information requests submitted by the Labour Party made shocking reading.

The Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust said it had closed its maternity unit on 30 occasions in 2016 because of “insufficient midwifery staffing for workload”.

Another example was Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust, which closed its unit five times last year, once for over 14 hours to “maintain safety and staffing levels”.

The Royal College of Midwives said that occasionally it was correct to close a unit and divert new admissions, but doing so regularly might reflect underlying problems with staffing levels.

The Labour Party has slammed the findings as “shameful”.

“These findings show the devastating impact which Tory underfunding is having for mothers and children across the country. The uncertainty for so many women just when they need the NHS most is unthinkable.”

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Health, said, continuing:

“Families are being sorely let down by this Government’s failure to recognise the crisis facing our NHS. The Tories need to get a grip and take urgent action to make sure closures like this don’t continue to happen.”

Oscar Webb is a reporter at Left Foot Forward. He tweets here.

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