ERI turns away mums-to-be because maternity unit is full
AN AVERAGE of seven heavily pregnant women are being turned away from Edinburgh's main maternity unit every month because there is no space.
Figures have shown that in the last year 80 women about to give birth were "redirected" 20 miles away to St John's Hospital in Livingston because there was no room at Little France's Simpson Centre.
Patient watchdogs criticised NHS Lothian for the capacity problem, although health bosses say planned improvements should ease the problem.
Of those transfers, 35 went on to give birth that day, while the others were examined in Livingston but told to return home.
It is understood the health board operates a traffic light system at Little France which remains green for most of the time. But depending on the number of beds or midwives, it can change to amber, at which point women who are not expected to have a complicated birth are asked instead to go to St John's. This can happen at the point they phone ahead to alert midwives, right up to showing up at the hospital.
Maria Wilson, chief midwife for NHS Lothian, said: "Our first considerations when discussing any transfer of an expectant mother is her welfare and the safe delivery of her child.
"Maternity services are provided across two sites in NHS Lothian and during extremely busy periods both sites are used."
The pressure on space follows a baby boom in the Lothians over the past few years. Since 2004 an 11 per cent increase in births has been registered, put down purely to the rising population both of Eastern European migrants and others from across the UK coming to live in the region.
As a result of this, plans for an expanded birthing centre at Little France are on the table, along with proposals to extend the maternity unit at St John's.
A recruitment drive for midwives will also be launched. The Evening News previously revealed that NHS Lothian's births to midwife ratio is one of the worst in Scotland, although still just inside Royal College of Midwife guidelines.
A spokeswoman for the RCN said: "Things are a bit stretched in the Lothians just now. It will improve once the new centre is open and St John's is given a bit of an upgrade.
"With the best will in the world, if people do turn up without phoning, the midwives don't know they are coming, but everyone who comes to ERI is checked to see if they're OK to travel."
Health chiefs point out that, in spite of the 80 who were redirected, there were still 6,783 births at the ERI in 2008.
It is not the first time lack of space has been an issue for NHS Lothian.
Margaret Watt, chairwoman of watchdog the Scotland Patients Association, said: "If Jesus himself turned up today they wouldn't have room for him either. There is a shortage of midwives and a shortage of beds, not just in birthing but right across the board, and doing little bits here and there does not address the problem."
Tory health spokeswoman Mary Scanlon added: "It is historically very difficult for a unit to plan practically for admissions of pregnant women. But 80 is a high number, and should be giving NHS Lothian food for thought."
'It is a tense time and you don't want any problems'
THE pressures of childbirth are intense enough without doubt being cast over where the child will be born.
And Lynn Neilson knows exactly what it is like to be in labour without a comfortable bed.
In December she gave birth to her daughter Orla on the floor of the ERI after being told there were no vacant rooms on the ward.
She received a full apology from NHS Lothian after she was forced to give birth while fully clothed, despite pleading to be taken to another ward.
Ironically it later emerged that there was a room available for her to use at the time.
And in follow-up meetings with health chiefs she was told she should have been offered the chance to go to Livingston, an option she would have snubbed.
"I wouldn't have been happy with that either," said the 36-year-old Grange mother. "It is a tense time and you don't want any problems.
"It depends on the person – it's swings and roundabouts.
"Maybe for some who are able to travel it isn't a bad option."
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 5 C to 11 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west