Some 44 percent of hospital trusts responding to Freedom of Information (FoI) requests said they had turned away pregnant women due to lack of resources. And the crisis appears to be intensifying.
Across England, hospitals said they had temporarily closed their maternity wards to new admissions 382 times last year. The figures for 2015 and 2014 were 375 and 225.
The Labour Party, which submitted the FoI requests, said lack of beds and staff were the main reasons. Some 96 trusts responded to the requests—and 42 said they had closed their doors at least once in 2016.
Women face a postcode lottery in terms of the care they can expect to receive. For instance, the maternity unit at Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust closed 30 times in 2016. It said there was “insufficient midwifery staffing for workload”.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth denounced the “devastating impact which Tory underfunding is having”. He said it was “shameful” that pregnant women were being turned away because of shortages of staff, beds and cots.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said it was “no surprise” that services are under such pressure and that lack of resources compromised safety.
There is a shortage of around 3,500 full time midwives across England. Yet the Tories want the NHS to make more “savings”.
In January a survey of 2,500 women who had given birth since 2014 found that half had experienced at least one “red flag” event. These indicate that there’s a problem with midwifery staffing, such as women in labour not being given pain relief soon enough.
The study by the National Childbirth Trust and National Federation of Women’s Institutes heard that women were treated “like cattle”. Many said they had been left feeling frightened and unsafe. One woman said, “I wasn’t treated as a human. I was just a product on a conveyor belt.”
Another had to give birth in the antenatal ward as there was no room on the delivery ward. “I couldn’t get either a water birth or an epidural,” she said.
There is widespread anger over the Tories’ attacks on the NHS. And several local campaigns have won in their battles to stop cuts to local services.
It will take more resistance and struggle from below to defend the NHS.