WOMEN in labour are being diverted from a leading Scottish hospital to give birth 20 miles away because their maternity centre is too busy to cope.
Last year, 107 women were sent from Edinburgh Royal Infirmary’s birthing unit to have their baby at St John’s in Livingston, due to staffing or capacity issues. Patients groups said that was unacceptable and the NHS needed to look at new ways of managing the unpredictable nature of childbirth.
The Tories, who obtained the figures under Freedom of Information, said it meant the Edinburgh unit was put “on divert” every three days during 2012. This was despite the opening of a £2.8 million birthing suite in October 2011 to cope with a growing number of births.
St John’s had to divert women away 14 times, due to issues with staffing or capacity.
The Tories said such measures were seldom used elsewhere in Scotland and were mainly linked to poor weather. Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said the figures were “alarming” and families deserved better. He called for action to prevent heavily pregnant women having to be sent elsewhere.
“The opening of the new birthing unit was supposed to ease this issue,” he said. “Birth rates since it opened haven’t increased, so why is this continuing to happen?
“The SNP has cut the number of nurses and midwives drastically in the past few years, and we have to now question if this renders the opening of that unit a waste of time.”
Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, said women hated being transferred from the hospital where they expected to give birth, particularly if they were in the late stages of labour.
“Sitting a car at that stage is not the most comfortable position to be in,” she said.
She said hospitals rightly diverted patients in the interests of safety, but insisted the system could be changed to make it easier for women to have their baby where they expected to. “We have to be really good at either having flexible midwives or midwives on contracts where they are willing to come in extra hours as needed, or you have to institute some form of caseload midwifery where a woman is allocated a midwife and when she goes into labour, she calls that midwife to go into hospital with her,” Ms Phipps said.
“That is the only way to match supply and demand neatly, so you don’t have midwives sitting about when you have not many women coming in, or rushed off their feet when they are.”
Margaret Watt, chair of the Scotland Patients Association, said it was “unacceptable” that women were being shifted between hospitals when in labour.
“They might be worrying they would end up having a baby in the back of an ambulance,” she said. “It is one of the biggest stresses in someone’s life and to have something else to make that worse is totally inappropriate.”
Maria Wilson, chief midwife at NHS Lothian, said the Edinburgh unit was not suitable for all women. “During extremely busy periods, the maternity suites [in Edinburgh and Livingston] are used flexibly and the options available will be discussed with women as part of the triage process,” she said.
“Our first consideration when discussing any transfer of an expectant mother is her welfare and the safe delivery of her child.”