WHISTON Hospital's maternity unit is among more than 40 per cent of units across the country which had to turn away expectant mothers last year.

It has been reported in the national press that hospitals in England temporarily closed their maternity wards to new admissions on 382 occasions last year - compared to 375 times in 2015 and 225 occasions in 2014 - due to shortages of staff and beds.

The figures were uncovered by the Labour Party through freedom of information requests to 136 hospital trusts with maternity units in England, where 42 (44 per cent) out of the 96 trusts that responded said they had temporarily closed their doors on at least one occasion in 2016.

The maternity unit at Whiston had to close for more than 30 hours on one occasion in February 2016 because of bed capacity and high activity.

In March 2016, when the Star reported on the closures, a spokesperson for St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said: "The trust operates a very busy maternity unit, with almost 4,000 deliveries in 2015.

"Sometimes demand for the trust's maternity services exceeds capacity. This has happened four times in the past year.

"When this occurs women telephoning the unit, prior to admission, may be diverted to other maternity units with available beds. Those who present at the Whiston unit in established labour will however always be admitted.

"This is a reciprocal agreement across all trusts regionally."

They said the temporary closures happened between 12.30am on February 2 and 7am on February 3, 2016 - a period of more than 30 hours.

Last year, the hospital said it was recruiting more maternity staff following an earlier CQC report, which highlighted the maternity unit's areas of safety, leadership and responsiveness as requiring improvement.

Reacting to the national situation, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “It is staggering that almost half of maternity units in England had to close to new mothers at some point in 2016.

“It’s shameful that pregnant women are being turned away due to staff shortages, and shortages of beds and cots in maternity units.”

Midwifery leaders called for action to tackle “significant pressures” on maternity services across England, which face a shortage of around 3,500 full-time midwives.