/26 August 2014
Do you work in a maternity unit? Have you experienced a temporary closure due to resource issues? How many closures are acceptable?
Evidence suggests maternity units are operating under greater strain than previously.
A Quality Care Commissions poll in 2013 suggested maternity services were stretched with mothers indicating there were some issues with the service they received at some locations.
Figures quoted by the BBC show the number of midwives has increased to about 20000. Yet the Royal College of Midwives suggests there are real shortages of more than 4000 because the birth rate is at its highest since the 1970s and births are becoming more complex.
Evidence gained from the BBC as the result of a Freedom of Information Request suggests more maternity services are closing for short periods. The BBC found 51% of 121 trusts responding to their request closed temporarily in 2013 and 12% closed more than 10 times. The most common reason given was a shortage of staff or beds.
Previous research by the Conservatives in 2008 found 1 in 10 units had to close more than 10 times. In 2013 three trusts had substantially more closures than others: Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust. The Nottingham figure represents 2 hospitals.
On the other hand it’s important to point out many closures were just for a few hours but the BBC research did find examples of units closing for more than 48 hours.
Government reaction to the BBC research focused on the increased choice in maternity care with the number of maternity-led units doubling since 2010. It also appears to hold the view there will always be a limited number of occasions when units need to close their doors. But it does beg the question of what an acceptable number of closures are.
The RCM Chief Executive suggests there is a genuine staffing shortage. The requirement for more midwives is based on the increasing complexity of births due to obesity and fertility treatment. There’s also a long term trend for women to have babies older.