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Shocking new figures have revealed that almost half of the maternity units across the country are having to turn away women in labour due to a lack of available beds, or a lack of staff.
The figures which were obtained following a Freedom of Information request by the Labour Party showed that during 2017 there were 287 occasions where maternity units were shut. However, responses to the initial Freedom of Information request were not received from all trusts, suggesting the total number of closures may in fact be far higher. This raises concern about the level of care received by those in labour and the potential for a midwife negligence claim should this be the case.
In total 41 out of the 89 Trusts who responded to the information request confirmed that they had closed their maternity unit to new admissions at least once during 2017 (46 percent). Of these, 11 trusts had shut their door to new admissions on more than 10 separate occasions throughout the year. 8 Trusts had closures lasting more than 24 hours. This is a slight increase when compared to similar figures in 2016 whereby 44 percent of Trusts had confirmed they had closed their unit to admissions at least once.
The number of closures varies from trust to trust however, during 2017 Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust had to close its ward a total of 33 times, of which 24 times the reason provided was “insufficient midwifery staffing for workload”. In addition, the maternity unit at Bristol NHS Trust had to remain closed during the period 31st December through to the 7th January due to a high demand.
Although it is not known how many women were turned away during the closures, it can understandably be a distressing time for those in labour to have to give birth in another maternity unit than the one that they had originally planned to give birth in. Units operating at full capacity may find themselves stretched, particularly if a number of mothers may have complex pregnancies and require additional support during labour. This raises questions about the potential for birth injury claims to arise should negligent care have taken place during their birth. This also raises concerns as to whether women are being denied certain types of birth due to a lack of available staff – such as a caesarean section. In these instances, it may be possible to pursue a c-section claim.
The most common reasons given for the closures was that there was a shortage in capacity or a lack of available staff, which follows calls that an additional 3,500 midwives are currently needed to adequately cope with demand. It is thought that with a number of women waiting until a later age to have children and an increasing number of pregnant women being obese, there has been an increase in complex pregnancies and labours which require additional midwife and consultant support in order to ensure the safe delivery of babies.