PREGNANT women going into labour were encouraged to head straight to the Royal Bolton Hospital without calling ahead after it was struck by problems with its telephone system.

The communications issues, caused by a fault in the switchboard, meant the hospital was unable to take phone calls throughout much of Monday night and Tuesday morning, meaning parents-to-be could not contact them.

Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, which operates the Royal Bolton Hospital, took to Twitter on Monday to apologise for the problems and advise expectant mums not to wait to get through on the phone but instead go directly to the maternity unit.

The problems have since been resolved and Bolton NHS Foundation Trust has said it will work to ensure the issue does not re-occur.

A spokesman for the Trust said: "A fault with our switchboard caused our phone systems to be out of action between approximately 7pm on Monday and 4am on Tuesday. 

"We put mitigation into place such as using walkie talkies and mobile phones. 

"We apologise to those people who may have been trying to phone in but were unable to get through.

"We are undertaking a full review to understand what caused the fault and to minimise the risk of it happening again." 

This week's problems are the second time in recent months that Royal Bolton Hospital has experienced problems with its telephone system.

In November both outgoing and incoming calls to the hospital became disconnected after about 20 seconds, staff reported.     

The NHS usually advises expectant mums who think they have gone into labour to call their hospital before leaving home. 

Mums-to-be, especially those who are pregnant for the first time, are also encouraged to call their hospital for advice if they have unsure about what to do.

Women expecting their first baby are typically asked to come into hospital when their waters have broken or if their contractions are regular, strong, around five minutes apart and last about 60 seconds.

Second babies often arrive more quickly, so pregnant mums may need to head to hospital sooner.

Similarly those who do not live near their hospital should also set off before they get to this stage.

Bolton NHS Foundation Trust's maternity service provides care to more than 6,000 women and their babies every year.

Maternity care for the town is based at the Princess Anne Maternity Unit, Royal Bolton Hospital, and Ingleside Birth and Community Centre in Salford, with midwives also working in the community.

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