Nearly half of England’s maternity units closed to mums-to-be at some point last year, new figures obtained by the Labour party have revealed.
A Freedom of Information request sent to all hospitals in England found that there were at least 287 occasions when maternity units closed to new mothers in 2017.
It said 89 trusts out of 135 responded to the request and 46% of these had closed their maternity unit to new admissions on at least one occasion.
In addition a total of 41 hospital trusts said they temporarily closed maternity wards to mums-to-be at some point last year.
Eight trusts remained closed for more than 24 hours, while 11 trusts closed temporarily on more than 10 occasions each.
Hospitals sited capacity and staffing shortages as the most common reason for the closures.
Commenting on the findings Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “Expectant mothers deserve reassurance that the local maternity unit will be there for them when needed.
“It is a disgrace that almost half of maternity units in England had to close to new mothers at some point in 2017. The uncertainty for so many women just when they need the NHS most is unthinkable.
“Every pregnant woman turned away from a maternity unit due to staff shortages and shortages of beds and cots deserves an apology from government ministers.”
“Mothers and babies deserve better than this.”
In response to the figures a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson (DHSC) spokesperson said: “We want the NHS to be one of the safest places in the world to have a baby and earlier this year we announced a 25 per cent increase in midwifery training places.
“Temporary closures in NHS maternity units are well rehearsed safety measures which trusts use to safely manage peaks in admissions.
“To use these figures as an indication of safe staffing issues, particularly when a number of them could have been for a matter of hours, is misleading because maternity services are unable to plan the exact time and place of birth for all women in their care.”
The news comes as new guidance advised midwives that new mums should not be shamed into breastfeeding and their choice to bottle feed must be respected.
New advice from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) stresses that new mothers should be given appropriate support if they make an informed decision to bottle feed.
The guidance marks a shift in position from previous advice emphasising the ‘risks’ of formula feeding while also focussing on the benefits of breastfeeding.
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