A GROWING number of mums-to-be are being turned away from maternity units across Lothian, with more than three a week rejected from their first-choice ward.
NHS Lothian is the only health board in Scotland to divert patients to other hospitals – some being sent as far away at the Borders and Lanarkshire – so mother and baby can get the care they need.
It is thought at least 160 women were shipped between Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and St John’s in Livingston to give birth last year alone – nearly double the rate of 2011.
The £2.8 million Simpson Centre for Reproductive Health at the ERI, which opened to help midwives cope with soaring birth rates in the region, is so busy that it is being forced to close every few days.
And a recent refurbishment at St John’s has increased its popularity to the extent that the number of mums being sent from there to Edinburgh has doubled in the last year.
Gillian Smith, director of the Royal College of Midwives in Scotland, said staff were under enormous pressure.
She said maternity teams used a traffic light system to gauge how busy each site was before directing patients to the facility where both mum and baby would get the best care available.
“I think it is just the sheer workload, not just in the birthing centre but across the hospitals,” she said. “I think the disappointing thing for a lot of women will be if they wanted to get into the birth centre [at St John’s] and it was too busy, because it is lovely.
“It is really busy because a lot of people want to be there. Wherever you are, women should be able to access a home-from-home environment, that’s what is most important, and I think St John’s have tried to achieve this with the refurbishment.”
New figures reveal that the ERI diverted 85 expectant mums in the first eight months of 2014, meaning it will have closed on 113 occasions if the same pattern was repeated throughout the year.
It represents a 43 per cent increase since the unit first opened in 2011 as many mums were left with no option but to have their babies more than 20 miles away in West Lothian.
The full extent of the problem is not entirely clear as the statistics do not include women who have been re-routed outwith Lothian.
The health board admitted patients were referred to Borders General Hospital, the Maternity Unit in Forth Valley and Wishaw General Hospital in NHS Lanarkshire, but could not reveal how many.
The maternity unit at the ERI was supposed to help midwives cope with soaring birth rates in the Lothians, with 10,000 a year now being born.
The Scottish Conservatives, who obtained the figures through the Freedom of Information Act, slammed the process as potentially disruptive to hundreds of Lothian mothers at a vital stage of their pregnancy. Party leader Ruth Davidson said: “For a woman in labour to be diverted more than 20 miles away to a hospital she’s possibly never been to is completely unacceptable.
“This is only happening in Lothian, so it’s crucial the health board gets together with the Scottish Government to address this as a matter of urgency.
“It is statistics like these which show why we need to hire 1000 extra nurses and midwives to make sure staff numbers can begin to meet demand.
“To pay for this, we would reintroduce the prescription charge for those who can afford it, a charge that many would be happy to pay.”
Frances McGuire, associate chief midwife at NHS Lothian, denied the units were ever closed or women turned away, but said mothers and babies had to get the care and attention they need as quickly as possible.
She said: “During extremely busy periods the maternity suites are used flexibly and very occasionally we will consider transferring patients deemed low-risk to hospitals out with the NHS Lothian area.
“All the options available will be discussed with patients and our first consideration when discussing any transfer of an expectant mother is her welfare and the safe delivery of her child.”