Recently released figures reveal a notable increase in maternity ward closures. In response to a Freedom of Information request 42 of the 96 NHS Hospitals Trusts confirmed that wards had been closed temporarily on a total of 382 occasions in 2016.
This understandably has led to concerns that such closures are an added source of stress for women in labour or that they could potentially impact upon the safety of women and their children. For example, when a maternity ward is shut on short notice women in advanced labour may have to travel further to another hospital delaying access to medical assistance at a time when even short delays could have a significant impact on the well being of mother and baby.
It is important that women feel confident that they will receive appropriate care in a timely manner. On the one hand, such closures reduce access to the closest medical facility and may cause delays, but on the other they indicate that necessary precautions are being taken to reduce pressure on the system which if left unchecked might itself result in increased risks to mother and baby.
Questions are also being raised as to the reasons for these closures. Sean O'Sullivan, Head of Policy at the Royal College of Midwives has commented that "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." Whilst the figures do not necessarily demonstrate a persistent problem, they do suggest that further action is required to secure the availability of maternity services and to minimise the need for future closures.
If you have been affected by maternity units closures or have concerns about the treatment you or a family member received from a maternity unit then please contact our specialists Carolyn Lowe (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Catherine Bell (email@example.com) on 01865 781000 for a free, confidential discussion.
National Childbirth Trust senior policy adviser Elizabeth Duff said it was "appalling" that pregnant women "are pushed from pillar to post in the throes of labour". "New maternity policy in England stresses the need for locally based services which must have enough midwives so that women are not turned away in labour," she said.