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The Institute for Fiscal Studies has reported that women in labour are more likely to be turned away from maternity wards at weekends and during the summer holidays, with staffing levels during these times being a key pressure point.
The findings reveal that obstetric units are 30 percent more likely to close their wards to new admissions towards the end of the week – namely Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, when compared to earlier in the week. However, there appears to be no substantial peak in demand across these days, with the number of admissions being stable throughout the week. Similar patterns in closures were also seen in midwife-led units.
In addition, it also appears that seasonality impacts maternity ward closures, with there being 50 percent more closures during June compared to January. Closures over the Christmas period are also typically higher than at other times during the year.
Given that the number of beds within the wards remains the same throughout these periods, the Institute for Fiscal studies alludes to the number of closures being down to staff shortages throughout these times.
The increase in closures during these periods suggests that the overall level of patient care may be compromised for patients on the ward during these times. Although the figures do not provide enough detail to confirm whether this is the case, the figures do raise concerns as to whether access to medical staff may go beyond the optimum. This is particularly alarming for patients with high risk pregnancies whereby access to medical professionals is often required and assurance that the correct decisions throughout the labour process are being made. Where medical professionals are stretched and working over capacity the potential for negligence to occur is increased. In instances where negligence has occurred and the outcome for mother or baby has been compromised, hospitals and medical teams may face an increase in birth injury claims. Such claims can include delayed or missed decisions or when injury has occurred to baby or mother meaning that a birth injury to baby claim may be appropriate.
On these latest findings, Joyce Robins from Patient Concern commented:
“It must be absolutely frightening for couples to be left in the lurch like this. Women don’t have any choice about when they go into labour – they need a service that they can rely on.”
These latest findings follow reports earlier in the year that the number of overall maternity ward closures has increased by 70 percent in a two year period, prompting the Royal College of Midwives to call for an additional 3500 midwives in order to be able to cope with increased demand.
Medical negligence solicitor, Jason Brady commented:
“This latest report from The Institute for Fiscal Studies highlights what appears to be a disparity based on the day of the week that mothers are giving birth. Ward closures can have a huge impact on the birthing experience and steps should be taken to help minimise these occurrences.”