Maternity units more likely to close on weekends and holidays - report
Staff taking time off mean maternity units are more likely close on weekends and during school holidays, new analysis published today suggests.
Maternity wards are 30% more likely to close on Thursday, Friday and Saturday than from Monday to Wednesday, a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found.
The research suggests changes in staffing patterns were largely responsible for units having to turn mothers away, rather than any fluctuations in birth rates.
The fact there are 50% more closures in June than January also suggests that staff taking holiday is contributing to closures.
However, a rise in the number of older women with more complex health needs giving birth has also added to pressures on the service, the IFS said.
Overall the number of temporary closures of wards remains low, with the average unit only closing twice a year - although one in ten closes six times or more.
Elaine Kelly, a senior research economist at the IFS, said wards must manage staff better to avoid unnecessary closures.
"NHS Maternity Units are more likely to close towards the end of the week and during holiday periods, pointing to staff availability as a key problem.
"Such closures may be the most cost efficient way of dealing with pressures but NHS Hospital Trusts should certainly ensure that such day-of-the-week or seasonal effects are an understood and tolerable consequence of financial restraint, rather than the result of poor workforce management.
"More generally while the number of women giving birth in the UK is not increasing, NHS Maternity Units are under increasing pressure from the fact that those giving birth increasingly have characteristics associated with, on average, more expensive care needs."