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Letter to the editor: pregnant women turned away as maternity units close

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Dear Sir,

Expectant mothers had to be diverted to alternative maternity services when the maternity/birth unit at Gloucestershire Hospital Trust closed for 7734.25 hours last year because there weren’t enough staff leading to maternity units, closing five times.

Across England last year, 4 in 10 maternity units shut their doors, as shortages of midwives hit patients. 60 hospitals closed all or part of their maternity services last year due to staff shortages, Freedom of Information responses reveal. Hospitals shut their maternity units or birth centres sometimes for weeks at a time.

Six hospitals had to shut their breast clinics and three stroke units were also closed last year due to staff shortages.

Staff vacancies in the NHS hit a record high this year, with the latest figures showing the NHS is short 124,000 staff including 44,000 nurses and 9,000 doctors. Over the period the FOI measured, from November 2021 to October 2022, the number of midwives employed by the NHS fell. Without urgent Government action there is no end to the crisis in sight – in a recent survey of members of the Royal College of Midwives, over half of midwives said they were considering leaving their job as a midwife, many because of the impact that persistent understaffing has on their ability to provide a safe service.

At Stroud Maternity Hospital, post-natal beds have been closed for months, as they grapple with lack of midwives in Gloucestershire. Stroud Maternity Matters have been fighting hard to get the beds reopened, but so many midwives have left the NHS over low pay and staffing, and the government has not trained enough midwives to fill the shortfall. 

Labour is calling on Jeremy Hunt to adopt its NHS plan in his budget next month, including:

  • Doubling the number of medical school places, training 15,000 new doctors a year
  • Training 10,000 additional nurses and midwives every year
  • Doubling the number of district nurses qualifying each year
  • Training 5,000 new health visitors

Labour would pay for it by abolishing the non-dom tax status, which allows people who live and work in Britain to pay their taxes overseas.

Expectant mothers deserve the security of a well-staffed, safe, and comfortable health service.

After 13 years of the Conservatives’ failure to train enough doctors, nurses, and midwives, maternity services are shutting up shop with pregnant women denied access.

In his budget this week, Jeremy Hunt should nick Labour’s plan to double medical school places and train 10,000 more nurses and midwives, so mothers and babies are well looked after.

Simon Opher, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Stroud

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