Maternity units 'under threat'12th December 2006
More than 40 maternity units may be forced to close, the Conservatives have claimed.
Opposition MPs say 21 midwife-led units and a further 22 doctor-led services have closed or are under threat of closure, according to their research compiled by press reports and information from the Royal College of Midwives.
More than half the units are run by NHS trusts who ran into financial difficulties last year.
Two-thirds of the 43 threatened units are in non-Labour constituencies, but the government has challenged the findings, saying service change is led by service improvement.
The Department of Health say their figures show just 14 units are either closed, closing or being downgraded and all have been driven by service improvements for local people.
But the Tories argued, that while some closures or downgrading may be based on local need many were caused by financial pressures.
The Royal College of Midwives has weighed into the debate, warning they will challenge closures which they see as detrimental to women’s right to choose.
The National Childbirth Trust has also expressed its concerns over units closed because of reported concerns over the safety of staffing levels caused by shortages.
Consultant-led units have been affected by cuts to junior doctor’s working hours as part of the European Working Time Directive.
By 2009 every woman should be offered the choice of a planned home birth, or giving birth in a midwife-led or consultant-led unit.
The Conservatives plan to continue their research by consulting with local staff and patients to find closures generating real concern.
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