Labour closing maternity increasing, say Conservatives
The Conservatives, who collated the figures from freedom of information requests, said they demonstrated Labour’s “terrible record on maternity”.
Fifty of 104 trusts that replied to the requests said they had closed to admissions or diverted women elsewhere at least once during the year.
In a similar survey of 83 trusts for 2007, 42 per cent said they had to close at least once.
In total, there were 553 closures in England in 2008, up 38 per cent from 402 in 2007, the Conservatives said.
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “These figures are a telling reminder of Labour’s terrible record on maternity.
“Every one of these figures tells an awful story of mothers being turned away from hospital at a hugely emotional time – when they are due to give birth. Labour seem to be deliberately running down maternity services in some hospitals as a precursor to shutting down maternity units altogether.“
“The labour government must increase midwife numbers as they promised, make sure local maternity units get their fair share of NHS funding, and sort out their disastrous negotiation of EU rules on doctors’ working hours.”
In 2007, the government committed to improving the safety of maternity services, including by appointing 1,000 midwives by September and “up to 4,000” by 2012. Last January it said an additional £330m funding would go to primary care trusts for maternity over three years.
However, a large proportion of primary care trusts are not earmarking the money for maternity, meaning it may not reach services.
Royal College of Midwives director for England Jacque Gerrard said: “Capacity within maternity units is being stretched to the limit and beyond, resulting in closures.
“The Department of Health, however, has set a target to recruit the equivalent of another 3,400 full time midwives by 2012, and it has started to increase the money going into maternity care.
“Some of this money, however, is not finding its way into the hands of the people at the front line to employ more midwives and improve maternity services.
“The Royal College of Midwives is urging people who run health services locally to be more proactive and use money earmarked for maternity services actually for maternity services, so that women are not being left worried and deeply disappointed.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Sometimes units do have to temporarily shut their doors, usually for very short periods of time.
“We appreciate that it is distressing to be told that your care is going to be provided elsewhere but this is always undertaken in the interests of safety for the mother and baby.