‘More than 30 maternity and A&E units have been shut down, downgraded or threatened with closure since May’s general election, despite the government’s promise to protect NHS frontline services.’
This is the stark observation in the latest Royal College of Midwives members’ magazine.
‘Midwives’ adds: ‘The maternity unit in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire has been closed and services in Petersfield and Gosport in Hampshire no longer deliver babies.
‘There are also plans to shut down consultant-led maternity units at Sandwell General Hospital in West Midlands, Maidstone Hospital in Kent, and Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire.
‘Maternity services at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup, Kent will be temporarily suspended from mid-December.
‘Though the government said it would not cut the Department for Health’s budget, future increases in NHS funding will be lower than under the Labour government, so the service will need to find £20 billion in savings over the next few years.’
RCM general secretary Cathy Warwick said: ‘We would be very worried if reconfigurations were being driven through because of the economic circumstances.
‘Any decision taken about the future of maternity services needs to be in the interests of the women they serve.’
She said reduced services were particularly worrying as pregnant women can no longer rely on them.
Warwick stressed: ‘You can’t offer midwife-led units in a half-hearted way.
‘Temporary closures and units which only open some of the time are a real concern.’
The warnings come as it has emerged that King’s College Hospital, south London, has admitted that some women have had to give birth in a waiting room because of a shortage of beds in its maternity unit.
The maternity unit was sometimes running 20 per cent over capacity.
Managers at the hospital stated in an internal report: ‘Increasing demand for use of the maternity services at King’s has resulted in there being insufficient space to care for all women appropriately when giving birth and accessing care.
‘Women are labouring in the waiting room on a regular basis while waiting for a labour room, sometimes giving birth inappropriately before this area is free.’
The report went on to say that there have been 40 serious incidents in the past three months at the hospital’s maternity ward because there were not enough beds or staff.
The hospital said it had taken action to increase capacity, including taking on extra staff.
Meanwhile, maternity units at King George Hospital in Ilford and Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield are undergoing reviews.
And as well as the December closure of its maternity unit Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup will also close its A&E for the winter.
It is feared both could close permanently.
British Medical Association Council member Anna Athow told News Line: ‘It is a disgrace that women are having to give birth in corridors and waiting rooms, putting their own and their babies’ lives at risk.
‘It will get a lot worse if the current proposals for the closure of many consultant-led maternity units go ahead, now Lansley has lifted the moratorium.
‘There has to be a fight by the trade unions to defend all NHS departments with occupations and a general strike to bring down the coalition.’