A new report shows that one in four women have been left alone during labour or shortly after they gave birth, despite the fact they were worried.
And the study by the Healthcare Commission shows that at some NHS trusts, medical staff leave up to half of women during labour and/or after the birth.
The report warns that midwives may be failing to adequately reassure women when they leave the room.
Official guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) state that a woman in labour "should not be left on her own except for short periods or at the woman's request".
However, the report into maternity services found that there are widespread variations between NHS trusts.
The best-performing trust was East Cheshire NHS Trust, where 15% of women said they were left alone but 85% were never left on their own.
But the worst-performing was Milton Keynes General Hospital NHS Trust, where 49% of women were left alone during labour and/or after the birth at a time that worried them.
Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said at least 5,000 more full-time equivalent midwifery posts are needed to help address the problems.
She said: "We have got to aim for all women to be happy with their care but we will struggle to make this happen unless the chronic and worsening shortage of midwives is addressed."
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"In my case I believe there was a conflict between the (post-natal) ward where I was induced and laboured and the delivery suite. It was quite apparent that the postnatal staff wanted no responsibility for a labouring woman on their ward and provided virtually no care or assistance during my labour at all. There was a perception that I couldn't possibly be in active labour so was left alone for approx 12 hours until my waters
broke and I was found to be fully dilated. It was only then that I was transferred to the delivery suite by which time I was too terrified to do any thing. I can't say if there had been more midwives available my situation may have been different" - Jemma, Surrey
"Yes, most definitely. On numerous occasions midwives have to care for antenatal and postnatal women as well as a woman in labour" - Name and address supplied
"I have been a midwife for 28 years - we are not allowed to talk to patients when we are short staffed which is almost every day and we have been told we will be disciplined if we do. We deliver over 6000 babies a year and have six midwives a shift. Our delivery rate is 28% up on last year with the same number of staff and same resources. If a midwife died no one would notice, everyone is waiting for a disaster to happen. We spend our time apologising to patients and putting up with the rudeness of partners. The government has said patients will have one-to-one care in labour, this never happens. We are also expected to look after hyperemesis patients and terminations of pregnancy and day assessment patients on the delivery suite" - Name and address supplied
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