Staff shortages leading to maternity unit closures
A shortage of staff is likely to be the key factor behind maternity units closing their doors to pregnant women, according to a new study.
The research, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), found that NHS maternity units across England are more likely to temporarily close towards the end of the week and during holiday periods.
It comes after it was revealed that 42 hospital trusts said they temporarily closed maternity wards to new admissions at some point in 2016.
Russells Hall hospital in Dudley has temporarily shut its maternity ward during the last three years, while Walsall Manor's maternity unit was closed earlier this year for eight weeks. Bridgnorth's maternity unit was also temporarily closed earlier this year.
The most common reasons given were staff shortages and not enough beds.
The IFS study said that closures were 30 per cent more likely on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays than they are on Mondays to Wednesdays.
Researchers also found there are 50 per cent more closures in June than in January, even though the number of births is roughly the same.
Elaine Kelly, a senior research economist at IFS, said: "NHS maternity units are more likely to close towards the end of the week and during holiday periods, pointing to staff availability as a key problem.
"Such closures may be the most cost-efficient way of dealing with pressures but NHS hospital trusts should certainly ensure that such day-of-the-week or seasonal effects are an understood and tolerable consequence of financial restraint, rather than the result of poor workforce management."
Jon Skewes, director for policy, employment relations and communications at the Royal College of Midwives, said: "There is a cocktail of a historically high birthrate, increasingly complex births and staff shortages that lead to units closing temporarily.
"Heads of midwifery tell us that pressures on services are leading to closures and also to the temporary removal of services such as home births.
"The solution, in essence, is fundamentally simple, and that is to fund and staff our maternity services so that they have the resources to meet the demands being placed on them."
However, the report also said the pressure on maternity services has not been created by a rising birthrate.
It said the number of women giving birth in the UK each year has barely changed over the past eight years.
But it found women require greater levels of care due to factors such as women having children when they are older, which is linked to more complications, and greater maternal obesity.
The Government says that ward closures are 'well-rehearsed' and not down to staff shortages.