A spike in births left an Auckland hospital's birthing unit overflowing, with midwives warned there may not be room for their patients.

North Shore Hospital yesterday sent a text to midwives informing them that their 10 birthing beds were full and they should call the hospital to check for availability before sending patients there.

But despite the rush yesterday, services were back to normal today, a Waitemata DHB spokeswoman confirmed.

Only one woman, who was not in established labour, was sent to Waitakere Hospital instead of North Shore. Thirteen women gave birth at North Shore Hospital yesterday.


"Transferring women under these circumstances is very rare but, in this one case, it was a
necessary and completely appropriate measure," the spokeswoman said.

"Women who arrive at the hospital when birth is imminent would never be directed to
another hospital. Only women who are clinically safe to be transferred are diverted."

North Shore midwife Mary Gallagher received the text yesterday but said it happened intermittently.

"The population's increasing, let's face it, but the facilities aren't," she said.

Despite that, she had not been in a situation where she had to send a patient to another hospital.

Waitemata District Health Board, which runs both North Shore and Waitakere hospitals, served a population of just over 630,000 people and was involved in the birth of 7000 babies each year, a spokeswoman said.

New Zealand College of Midwives chief executive Alison Eddy said it was standard procedure for the hospital to let midwives know if all the beds were full.

"Maternity is an acute service so you can never predict how many women are going to turn up," she said.


The same situation arose from time to time at hospitals around the country, Eddy said.

She said even when a unit was at capacity, providing good care for women remained top priority for midwives and the DHB, despite the resource constraints.

Eddy agreed population growth could be a factor.

Capacity in other Auckland maternity wards has already been highlighted as an issue this year.

Counties Manukau District Health Board this year received signoff for a new 24-bed ward at Middlemore Hospital to help cater for the growing number of women who were leaving hospital before they were ready because of a shortage of beds.

The DHB's general manager Nettie Knetsch earlier told the Herald, the hospital's current maternity ward was at capacity up to five times a month and more beds were needed, particularly for mothers who had complex births or babies with extra needs.

Last month she said the maternity ward's monthly average capacity was 85 to 90 per cent.

A Counties Manukau spokeswoman today said the birthing and assessment unit at Middlemore did at times reach capacity which might mean some new mothers and babies were asked to move to a primary birthing unit for their post-natal stay.

Knetsch put the growing demand down to an increasing rate of complex births which meant mothers had to deliver at the hospital.

Auckland DHB also faced a similar issue last month when a woman scheduled for an induction was twice turned away because of a shortage of beds.

An Auckland DHB spokeswoman said at the time there was a spike in demand that week and appointments for women that could be safely deferred were rescheduled to make space for women requiring urgent care.

Strikes by midwives and junior doctors that week had also added complication to scheduling, she said.