HEALTH bosses have said they will be 'better placed' to provide birthing services once a new cohort of midwives joins the frontline team, however they have refused to rule out further suspensions of the service.

A lack of midwife staff saw delivery and home birthing services suspended in Oxfordshire on Thursday evening with staff being requisitioned to Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital to meet a spike in demand.

Rosalie Wright, director of midwifery at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH), said staffing remained 'difficult' with the trust still waiting for a new cohort of 40 midwives to be trained up.

However, health chiefs said it was impossible to offer assurances that further service suspensions would not be needed because of the nature of the demand-led service.

A trust spokesman said: “Midwifery is a responsive service – midwives support the entire county of Oxfordshire, so go where the demand is, and are part of a flexible workforce to allow them to go where women have chosen to give birth.

“Forty new midwives will be joining our service shortly and once they are all fully integrated with their new teams, we will be even better placed to provide the flexible service we need to accommodate women’s preferences for giving birth."

The desperate shortage of qualified midwives in Oxfordshire has been highlighted in recent months with Thursday's county-wide suspension of services coming just weeks after the midwife-led unit (MLU) at the Horton General Hospital in Banbury was closed for a number of hours following a similar peak in demand in Oxford.

Over the summer the trust had to draft senior midwife managers and educators back onto the front line to fill staffing rotas.

However, Jacquie Pearce-Jervis of Patient Voice urged the trust to offer re-assurance to would-be-mothers that they will be able to give birth at their chosen centre.

She said: “It is just not good enough for OUH to say they cannot guarantee it won’t happen again.

“The public needs re-assurance that OUH has a plan in place to tackle this problem.

“Having a baby is a stressful and difficult time for the whole family and the public needs re-assurance that they will be well looked after.

“Patient Voice is disappointed that the OUH is adopting this laid-back attitude and hopes they will take steps to re-assure the public on this matter.”