THE maternity ward for East Lancashire was among those forced to close its doors to admissions at some point last year.

About half the maternity wards in England had to close their doors at least once in 2013, due to a shortage of staff or beds.

Some closures lasted a few hours, while others were closed for two days or more, according to figures obtained by the BBC through Freedom of Information laws.

The maternity unit at Nottingham City Hospital closed 97 times, according to the figures.

However, health chiefs said the closure at Burnley General Hospital lasted just two hours, and was partly due to an increase in admissions. It meant that one woman had to transfer to Preston to give birth.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said the national figures suggest a ‘serious shortage of midwives’, but midwives at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (ELHT) recently told inspectors from the Care Quality Commission that their staffing levels were ‘satisfactory’ after a recent recruitment drive.

And Anita Fleming, head of midwifery, said: “We have improved significantly since last summer and the ratio (of midwives to births) has improved, we are currently recruiting and have taken part in the trust-wide recruitment campaign ‘caretomakeadifference’. Midwives that are due to qualify have been appointed and will start in September and October once they have received their registration numbers.”

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, said: “This Government is bringing more midwives into the NHS and that has to be recognised. However, birth rates remain very high and services are seeing more pregnancies with greater levels of complications because of increases in obesity and older women giving birth, among many other reasons.”