NHS trusts in England have been forced to periodically close their maternity units, during the last year, because of a lack of staff or a shortage of beds.

Following a Freedom of Information request, the BBC has revealed that 51% of NHS trusts in England temporarily closed maternity units in 2013 and of those 12% closed units at least 10 times.

The National Childbirth Trust described the closures as 'hugely disruptive'.

While there are currently around 22,000 midwives in the NHS in England, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) believes that is still 4,500 midwives short of the number needed to help deal with rising birth rates, which are currently at their highest since the early 1970s.

According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, between 2011 and 2012, 813,200 UK births were recorded. That is the highest figure in the EU.

Clinical negligence solicitor, Corrina Mottram, based in Thompsons Solicitors' Chelmsford office, said:

"Births in the UK have reached their highest point in more than 40 years and yet NHS Trusts are being forced to close units. Inadequate medical staffing to ensure the safe delivery of babies in UK hospitals is not acceptable and will lead to avoidable problems at births.

"Midwives and maternity units are being stretched beyond their capacity and, from our work with victims of clinical negligence, we are only too familiar with tragic cases often linked to poorly resourced medical services.

"Every day in the UK, 17 babies are stillborn or die shortly after death. The UK also has one of the worst still birth rates compared with other high income countries, according to the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, SANDS. It is therefore absolutely vital that the concerns raised by the RCM are properly addressed and the government sufficiently funds this area of healthcare, helping to support midwives deliver the highest level of care to expectant mums and their babies."