More than a third of maternity units have been forced to shut their doors to women in labour because they could not cope with demand, leading midwives have warned. Figures from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) show that 38.6% of maternity units had to temporarily shut during the last year.
A poll conducted among senior midwives revealed that units closed their doors on 281 separate occasions. The RCM said the average unit temporarily closed eight times, but one unit was at full capacity 50 times. Eight units had to close their doors on 10 or more occasions.
The college, which is holding its annual conference in Harrogate, said the number of closures was a reflection of the rising demands on services as well as increasingly complex births and issues with staffing levels.
The poll, which was completed by 53% of the heads of midwifery from around the UK, found that nine in 10 believed their unit was dealing with more complex cases than last year. Almost two in five said that they did not have enough midwives to cope with the demands on the service, and 19% of the 85 senior midwives who responded said their budget had decreased in the previous 12 months.
One in 10 said that they had been forced to reduce services in the last year, including reductions in parent classes and breastfeeding and bereavement support. Four in five also reported that they had to redeploy staff to cover essential services, meaning that staff who were supposed to be delivering antenatal care and community care were redeployed to cover labour delivery suites.