The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has warned that increasing pressure on the NHS has led to a rise in the number of maternity units having to close their doors to expectant mothers in order to cope with demand.
The midwives’ union said a shortage of midwives meant safety was being compromised and mistakes would “almost certainly be made.”
An RCM UK-wide survey revealed that four out of 10 maternity units were forced to close last year – including one unit that had to close temporarily 33 times - because of a lack of available midwives.
The disclosure comes after news that NHS trusts in England racked up a massive £930 million deficit in the first three months of the financial year – twice as much as in the same period last year.
A System Creaking at the Seams
The RCM said that budget cuts were having a huge impact on services and that midwives were struggling to cope with a rising birth rate and increasingly complex pregnancies and births due to obesity and an increase in the number of older first-time mothers.
According to the survey, 41.5% of maternity units had to shut down at some point last year because they were unable to cope with demand – a significant rise on the 32.8% forced to close in 2014.
A poll of 83 heads of midwifery at NHS trusts revealed that more than 90% of the midwives polled said their unit was dealing with a rise in more complex cases than the previous year and 30% said they were understaffed.
RCM Chief Executive Cathy Warwick said: "All of this shows a system that is creaking at the seams and only able to deliver high quality care through the efforts and dedication of its staff.
"When services are operating at or beyond their capacity, safety is compromised and mistakes can, and almost certainly will be made, through no fault of the dedicated staff delivering the service."
The RCM said there is currently a shortage of 2,600 full-time midwives. Despite this, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said the UK was still a "safe place to give birth."
Dr Clare McKenzie, Vice-President for Education at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: "Stretched and understaffed maternity services affect the quality and safety of care provided to mothers and babies, and restricts the choices available to women.
"On the whole the UK is a safe place for women to give birth but pressure on maternity services is growing, placing stress on doctors, midwives, managers and patients."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We're determined to make sure every mother and baby gets the highest quality care no matter where they live.”
The safety of pregnant women and their babies during childbirth is paramount and the results of this survey are extremely disturbing. If already overworked midwives continue to struggle to meet the demands they face due to underfunding and chronic staff shortages, patient care will undoubtedly suffer.
Pregnant women and their families need to have the right levels of expert medical support available to them. If complications arise, they need to be diagnosed quickly and dealt with appropriately. If there aren’t enough midwives, there is a significant risk that preventable errors will be made, resulting in very serious birth injuries or equally serious maternal injuries.
We have worked on many cases where the medical records have shown – and our clients have complained that – the midwives involved were responsible for the care of too many women, meaning that, when complications arose, they were not dealt with as they should have been.
This resulted in patients suffering injuries which, in some cases, were catastrophic.
The Clinical Negligence Solicitors at Slater and Gordon Lawyers help families who have had to deal with devastating birth injuries in a sensitive and supportive manner. If your baby was injured during pregnancy or child birth due to medical negligence call us for a free consultation any time of day on 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.