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A decision to close a maternity ward which had reached capacity is normal practice and does not justify the re-opening of a unit at a nearby hospital which closed last year, according to a director of midwifery.

It was revealed at a board meeting of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Trust (BHRUT) on Wednesday that the ward at Queen's Hospital in Romford was closed to new admissions on April 29 for four hours.

It has since emerged that the ward was closed in similar circumstances on two other occasion in the last 12 months.

This has been seized upon by health campaigner Andy Walker, who claims the maternity unit at King George Hospital in Goodmayes, which was shut last year, should re-open to deal with demand.

But Director of midwifery at Queen’s, Wendy Matthews, said the ward is not shutdown often enough to justify re-opening the unit at King George.

She said: "I can confirm that on 29th April, the Labour Ward at Queen’s Hospital closed for a short period of four hours.

"This was due to a high number of women that went into labour at the same time.

"To ensure the safety of the mothers and babies, the Maternity Unit diverted two women to nearby maternity units."

She added that the current situation at Queens is a “huge improvement” on three years ago when the ward was closed more than 10 times a month.

"Re-opening the maternity department at King George Hospital would not be justified for the very few occasions when this situation occurs," she said.

Mr Walker was at the board meeting on Wednesday and branded the ward closure a "disgrace".

The Trust was placed in 'special measures' by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in December 2013 over issues with patient waiting times in A&E, patient flow and leadership.

Healthwatch Havering published a report in April stating staff morale had improved since the level of births was capped at 8,000 rather than the previous 12,000.