Some of the women have been taken to hospitals up to 10 miles away to have their babies. The Royal College of Midwives said the situation was "very concerning" and "distressing for the women involved".
The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, east London, has closed its doors to women in labour on four occasions in the past six weeks - on 22 and 27 September, 25 October and 1 November. A spokesman for Tower Hamlets Healthcare Trust, which employs the midwives, said: "We are 20 midwives short out of a total of 108. The crunch comes when we have significant sickness above that. Last Monday there were another 10 off sick so we had to close.
"We don't throw the women who are here out but we tell the London Ambulance Service that we can't deal with any more. On 1 November, women went to the Whittington hospital in north London, Harold Wood in Essex and Greenwich in south London."
Women due to give birth were phoned by the hospitalbeforehand and told of the situation. Some who were not alerted turned up at the hospital using their own transport on the days it was closed. "We were able to take them in," the spokesman said. "This is something that does happen in east London but this is the worst patch we have had," he said.
St George's Hospital in Tooting, south London, confirmed it had also been forced to close its doors to maternity cases in recent weeks. A spokeswoman said: "The women would have been sent to neighbouring hospitals in the area where there was capacity." Chelsea and Westminster in west London and Whipps Cross in Essex were also reported to have been affected.
A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Midwives said: "We have been warning the service is getting close to breaking point. Midwives keep going, to ensure mothers and babies get a good service, but it only takes an outbreak of flu and we get this crisis."
Midwives complain that they are carrying more responsibility and working under greater pressure but this has not been reflected in their pay, leading to low morale and high staff turnover. Three out of four midwife units are understaffed and more than half of the vacancies are long-term, according to the college. It is demanding a "substantial" pay rise next year in a bid to attract more people to the profession in evidence due to be given to the Pay Review Body today.
Yesterday hundreds of midwives held protests in the North-west, the South and South-west, claiming pay recommendations from four years ago had not been implemented.
Karlene Davis, general secretary of the college said: "The Government had success with nurse recruitment when they significantly increased their starting pay earlier this year - it now urgently needs to do the same for midwives."
- More about:
- Kensington And Chelsea
- London Ambulance Service
- University Of The Arts London