The babies born in hospital corridors: Bed shortage forces 4,000 mothers to give birth in lifts, offices and hospital toilets
By Jenny Hope and Nick Mcdermott
Last updated at 8:36 AM on 26th August 2009
Thousands of women are having to give birth outside maternity wards because of a lack of midwives and hospital beds.
The lives of mothers and babies are being put at risk as births in locations ranging from lifts to toilets – even a caravan – went up 15 per cent last year to almost 4,000.
Health chiefs admit a lack of maternity beds is partly to blame for the crisis, with hundreds of women in labour being turned away from hospitals because they are full.
Latest figures show that over the past two years there were at least:
- 63 births in ambulances and 608 in transit to hospitals;
- 117 births in A&E departments, four in minor injury units and two in medical assessment areas;
- 115 births on other hospital wards and 36 in other unspecified areas including corridors;
- 399 in parts of maternity units other than labour beds, including postnatal and antenatal wards and reception areas.
Additionally, overstretched maternity units shut their doors to any more women in labour on 553 occasions last year.
Babies were born in offices, lifts, toilets and a caravan, according to the Freedom of Information data for 2007 and 2008 from 117 out of 147 trusts which provide maternity services.
One woman gave birth in a lift while being transferred to a labour ward from A&E while another gave birth in a corridor, said East Cheshire NHS Trust.
Others said women had to give birth on the wards – rather than in their own maternity room – because the delivery suites were full.
Tory health spokesman Andrew Lansley, who obtained the figures, said Labour had cut maternity beds by 2,340, or 22 per cent, since 1997. At the same time birth rates have been rising sharply – up 20 per cent in some areas.
Mr Lansley said: ‘New mothers should not be being put through the trauma of having to give birth in such inappropriate places.
‘While some will be unavoidable emergencies, it is extremely distressing for them and their families to be denied a labour bed because their maternity unit is full.
‘It shows the incredible waste that has taken place that mothers are getting this sort of sub-standard treatment despite Gordon Brown’s tripling of spending on the NHS.
‘Labour have let down mothers by cutting the number of maternity beds and by shutting down maternity units.’
The NHS employs the equivalent of around 25,000 full-time midwives in England, but the Government has promised to recruit 3,400 more.
However, the Royal College of Midwives estimates at least 5,000 more are needed to provide the quality of service pledged in the Government’s blueprint for maternity services, Maternity Matters.
At the same time almost half of all midwives are set to retire in the next decade.
Jon Skewes, a director at the Royal College of Midwives, said: ‘The rise in the number of births in other than a designated labour bed is a concern. We would want to see the detail behind these figures to look at why this is happening.
‘There is no doubt that maternity services are stretched, and that midwives are working harder and harder to provide good quality care. However, we know the Government is putting more money into the service.
‘The key now is to make sure this money is spent by the people controlling the purse strings at a local level.’
Care services minister Phil Hope said: ‘The number of maternity beds in the NHS reflects the number of women wanting to give birth in hospital. Giving birth can be unpredictableand it is difficult to plan for the exact time and place of every birth.
‘Local health services have plans to ensure high quality, personal care with greater choice over place of birth and care provided by a named midwife.
‘We recognise that some parts of the country face particular challenges due to the rising birth rate and that is why last year we pledged to increase funding for maternity by £330million over three years.
‘We now have more maternity staff than ever before and we have already met our target to recruit 1,000 extra midwives by September.’
Case study: I gave birth in a car
Pregnant Linda Corbett, 33, was turned away from one hospital and gave birth in a car as she dashed to another.
Her husband Chris, 39, delivered their daughter Iona in the back seat while her father raced to the hospital at 70mph.
‘I was really scared but I had to hold it together as I was the only one who knew the way to the hospital,’ she said.
‘The baby was born just as we entered the car park.’ Mrs Corbett, pictured, was due to give birth at her Brighton home in June last year but when she phoned the Royal Sussex County Hospital after her contractions started she was told the maternity unit was too busy to send a midwife to her.
When she phoned back later, she was told the unit was full and she would have to go to another hospital. Fifteen minutes later she gave birth.
She said: ‘We had such a happy ending but it could have been a disaster.’