A shortage of midwives has forced an NHS hospital in Yorkshire to “shut its doors for almost a year”.
The Friarwood Birth Centre at Pontefract Hospital will be closed from November 8 to September 30 2020.
In a statement released today, the chief executive of the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust blamed a lack of staff for leaving the hospital unable to “consistently provide the excellent standard of service we strive to”.
A Twitter post stressing the decision was “not made lightly” has been met with a political backlash, with social media users blaming Boris Johnson and Brexit.
“Mid Yorkshire, in common with many other trusts, has a number of midwife vacancies, which we struggle to fully recruit to in the context of a national shortage of midwives,” chief executive Martin Barkley said.
“Despite having been delighted to recruit 15 midwives from the cohort of newly qualified midwives that join the NHS at this time every year, it has not been enough to ensure we have an adequate number of midwives across three midwife-led units and our obstetric service based at Pinderfields Hospital.
“It is therefore challenging to consistently provide the excellent standard of service we strive to provide for our mums-to-be; nor is it fair to our staff to continue to stretch our midwifery resource so thinly.”
The trust will continue to employ midwives “where most women choose to give birth, which is “at Pinderfields Hospital and Dewsbury and District Hospital”.
“5,700 women give birth at Pinderfields Hospital each year and more than 300 at the Dewsbury midwifery-led unit, which typically has 50 per cent more births than at Friarwood in Pontefract,” Mr Barkley said.
“We have to deploy our midwives where they are most needed and therefore we have reluctantly taken the difficult decision to temporarily close the Friarwood Birth Centre on the grounds of safety.
In a Twitter post that has been retweeted 25 times, the trust states pregnant women who were booked to give birth at Pontefract will be contacted.
All ante and postnatal clinics at the hospital will continue as normal, it adds.
“This decision is purely driven by our shortage of midwives, and does not in any way pre-empt discussions that have been taking place about the future of the Friarwood Birth Centre,” Mr Barkley said.
“We keep our midwife vacancies under constant scrutiny and, should the situation change, particularly when we once again have the opportunity to recruit from the cohort of newly qualified midwives next autumn, we will review this decision.”
How bad is the midwife shortage?
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) estimates there was a shortage of around 3,500 staff in England alone in 2017, according to the charity Full Fact.
This is despite former prime minister Theresa May claiming there were 1,800 more midwives in 2017 than 2010.
The RCM warned, however, one in three midwives in England were in their fifties or sixties, with the number under 50 falling since 2010.
It estimated an overall shortage based on the number of births a full-time midwife can cope with a year.
The National Audit Office claims 29.5 births per midwife per year is a “widely recognised benchmark”.
Some of these midwives then fill “specialist and managerial posts”, the RCM said.
And it’s not just midwifery that is struggling. Applications to nursing undergraduate courses fell by 23% after the government abolished NHS bursaries, The Guardian reported.
From August 1 2017, nurses and midwives stopped receiving bursaries, with them instead relying on the same loans as other students.
With hopeful nurses now facing annual tuition fees of more than £9,000 ($11.481), many are opting not to join the profession.
“These figures confirm our worst fears,” Janet Davies, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, told The Guardian.
“The nursing workforce is in crisis and if fewer nurses graduate in 2020 it will exacerbate what is already an unsustainable situation.
“The outlook is bleak: fewer EU nurses are coming to work in the UK following the Brexit vote, and by 2020 nearly half the workforce will be eligible for retirement.”