Maternity units turn away British mums as immigrants' baby boom costs NHS 350m
by DANIEL MARTIN
The Daily Mail
30th January 2008
Maternity wards are being forced to turn away expectant mothers because they cannot cope with soaring demand from immigrants.
One hospital even had to shut its maternity ward for two months because its staff were needed elsewhere to deliver babies from foreign-born mothers.
An investigation has found the cost of providing maternity services for immigrants has more than doubled in only a decade to 350million a year.
The number of babies born to foreigners went up by 64,000 in 2007, piling pressure on maternity services
But the Government has massively underestimated the scale of the problem, and last year the number of midwives actually fell for the first time since Labour came to power.
According to an investigation by the BBC's Ten O'Clock News, one baby in eight was born to an immigrant mother in 1997.
Now, the figure is almost one in four.
Spending on NHS maternity services has increased from 1billion to 1.6billion a year.
But this has not been enough to cope with increased birth rates.
The number of babies born to British mothers has fallen by around 44,000 each year since 1997 but the number born to foreigners is up by 64,000 a year.
This has raised the overall birth rate to its highest level for 26 years and almost 40,000 more babies were born in 2006 than officials at the Health Department expected.
The baby boom is piling pressure on NHS maternity services.
Staff are often transferred from rural and suburban areas to those with more immigrant families.
Last summer, a maternity crisis hit the county of Berkshire as a direct result of the rise in babies born to immigrant mothers.
It led to the temporary closure of the maternity unit at Heatherwood Hospital in Ascot because hospitals in nearby Slough and Reading could not cope.
Heatherwood's midwives and other staff were needed in larger hospitals and its maternity unit shut on August 5.
Its staff and mothers moved to Wexham Park Hospital, near Slough, where an extra 150 immigrant babies were delivered.
Heatherwood re-opened its unit on October 1.
Professor Philip Steer, editor of the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, said: “The Department of Health has been taken by surprise.
“The demographic change, the sheer numbers, has in some areas increased very substantially without there being any forward planning really to allow for that.”
Conservative health spokesman Andrew Lansley said maternity services are “seriously overstretched”.
“If people are living in the UK then the Government needs to recognise that they'll have babies here,” he added.
“Only last year they published a review of maternity services which didn't include anything on the impact of migration.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “This situation is deeply worrying. It is essential that every expectant mother has access to reliable and safe maternity facilities.
“The Government is happy to reap the economic benefits of migrant workers but not willing to provide capacity to cope with the extra pressure which they bring to the NHS. They cannot have it both ways.”
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show there were 15,000 more Eastern European-born babies born here in 2006 than a decade earlier.
There were 11,000 more from India and Pakistan, and 8,000 more from Africa.
Nalini Modha, a GP in Peterborough, where the birth rate has risen by 33 per cent in two years, said: “If you're going to provide responsible care for all the population then we will have to stop and think about what we can and can't afford.”