Borough’s maternity ward remained open

Wigan Infirmary main entrance
Wigan Infirmary main entrance

Wigan Infirmary’s maternity unit has kept its doors open to expectant mothers, bucking the national picture.

More than four in 10 maternity wards had to turn away women due to a lack of beds and staff, according to information obtained by Labour.

But Wrightington, Wigan And Leigh NHS Foundation Trust had no 24-hour closures in the past three years.

It did have to temporarily divert patients to other hospitals on four occasions due to “bed pressures” - but only one patient was actually affected.

A spokesman said: “Wrightington, Wigan And Leigh NHS Foundation Trust has not closed its maternity unit for a 24-hour period in the last three years.

“However, we confirm that during the last three years there have been occasions when we have had to temporarily divert patients due to bed pressures.

“In the financial years 2014-15, the service was diverted for four hours and this affected one patient, we had no diverts at all in 2015-16, and in 2016-17, we have had three diverts for under six hours with no patients affected.”

The figures show hospitals in England temporarily closed their maternity wards to new admissions 382 times last year, compared to 375 times in 2015 and 225 in 2014.

Labour said capacity issues and staff shortages were among the main causes.

The data was uncovered via Freedom Of Information requests to 136 trusts, with 42 out of the 96 trusts that responded saying they had to close at least once in 2016.

Among those affected was the maternity unit at St Helens And Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which had to close for more than 30 hours on one occasion in February 2016 because of bed capacity and high activity.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “These findings show the devastating impact which Tory underfunding is having for mothers and children across the country.

“It is staggering that almost half of maternity units in England had to close to new mothers at some point in 2016.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Temporary closures in NHS maternity units are well rehearsed safety measures which we expect trusts to use to safely manage peaks in admissions.

“To use these figures as an indication of safe staffing issues, particularly when a number of them could have been for a matter of hours, is misleading because maternity services are unable to plan the exact time and place of birth for all women in their care.”

Midwifery leaders called for action to tackle “significant pressures” on maternity services across England, which face a shortage of around 3,500 full-time midwives.

Sean O’Sullivan, head of health and social policy at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: “This latest research from the Labour Party comes as no surprise to the RCM and really further proves just how badly England’s maternity services are struggling due to understaffing.

“The RCM respects and supports decisions made to close maternity units when failing to do this will compromise the safety of the service and the women and babies already being cared for.

“Nevertheless, if units are regularly and persistently having to close their doors it suggests there is an underlying problem around capacity and staffing levels that needs immediate attention.”