Expectant mothers have been turned away from packed Lothian maternity units more than twice in a week on average during the first half of the year, new figures have revealed.
Bed shortages forced 52 heavily pregnant women to be shipped from the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary to alternative wards as far as the Borders and Lanarkshire, while 16 mothers-to-be were diverted from St John’s Hospital in Livingston.
Soaring birth rates in the region have placed pressure on services but NHS chiefs said the number of mums diverted is stabilising.
However, figures released through freedom of information legislation show that 136 bewildered mums would be moved this year if the pattern continues – a rise of 15 per cent since 2012. Pressure has eased slightly since numbers hit the record level of 157 women diverted in 2014, as refurbishment of the St John’s unit placed the system under greater strain.
NHS Lothian bosses insist the maternity units are never closed but at times of great activity they will move women who have been assessed as low risk for transfer to the other Lothian unit, or further afield to Borders General Hospital or Wishaw General Hospital, in Lanarkshire.
Jackie Mitchell, national officer for the Royal College of Midwives, said: “This has been an ongoing issue for a significant period of time.
“The reason for this is when the plans for the new hospital site were being done, they anticipated a fall in birth rates which has obviously not happened. So when it was built there were not enough beds.
“I get midwives complaining to me about the pressures they are under at the ERI, which is why the divert was brought in.”
Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw MSP said: “This is now becoming a repeated problem over many years for NHS Lothian.
“It now has to explain why it is being forced to close its maternity unit at the ERI so often when no other health board has to. This results in a poorer service for women in labour, and damages families’ confidence in the maternity set-up. The Scottish Government must have noticed this problem, and perhaps it’s time ministers stepped in to sort this out.”
Women in the west of Edinburgh will be asked at their first appointment whether they want to deliver their baby in the upgraded facilities at St John’s to reduce unplanned transfers, said Fiona Mitchell, director of women’s and children’s services at NHS Lothian.
She said: “A small number of women, clinically assessed as suitable and low risk, may be transferred during the busiest times. We are actively encouraging more women to give birth in St John’s and benefit from spacious rooms.”