The Conservatives have claimed that two women a day were turned away from England’s maternity units last year.
Hospitals had to close their doors to 747 women because their units were too full or were short staffed, according to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
In total, 129 of the 148 NHS trusts that provide maternity services provided information, of which 44% (57 trusts) closed their unit or diverted women to other units on a minimum of one occasion last year.
The average was five closures per trust across the country, while fourteen trusts (11%) closed their maternity unit more than 10 times.
These figures are unchanged from 2008, when there were also five closures per trust on average.
The Tories said this called into question why already overstretched services were being closed, and pointed out that women were often forced to travel up to 100 miles to other units to give birth.
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “A Conservative government would halt Labour’s forced maternity unit closures, ensure that the number of midwives is increased and enable mothers to have safe access to the local services they need.”
Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said it was right to turn away women if safety could be compromised but added that reasons needed analysing closely.
She said: “It is deeply disappointing when any woman is turned away from the unit where she had planned to give birth.
“There is no doubt that some units are operating at or near their capacity much of the time and struggle to cope with more demand. If this is because local health trusts are not investing in services and midwives to meet that rising demand, then it needs addressing urgently.
“These figures are from last year, so I hope that this welcome investment is starting to show an improvement for the sake of overworked midwives and the women and babies they care for.”