Maternity units must not be stripped of staff in the event of a second wave of Covid-19, medical experts have said.
The Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggested too many risks were taken in the first wave, and should not be repeated.
Their survey found that more than half of obstetricians polled said that doctors had been redeployed outside of maternity services, fuelling staff shortages.
And 86 per cent of maternity units reported a reduction in pregnant women seeking help for emergencies during the pandemic.
The colleges said women who needed help may have kept away because they did not want to burden the NHS, or feared attending a hospital.
It follows widespread complaints that many women have been left to endure hours in labour without their birth partner, because of restrictions introduced in the wake of Covid-19.
Guidance was updated earlier this month to allow more access for birth partners, but warned that such steps may be reversed if local or national risks increase.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said services were now likely to “reluctantly” maintain some of these restrictions.
On Tuesday, health watchdogs warned that two in five maternity services are not safe enough.
Care Quality Commission (CQC) data shows that 38 per cent of maternity units “require improvement” when it comes to safety, with one per cent branded “inadequate”.
Dr Bill Kirkup, who led the review into the maternity scandal at Morecambe Bay and is leading a review into services in East Kent, told the Health and Social Care Select Committee that some trusts were “actively concealing” poor care.
A spokesperson for the NHS said: “Staff deployment is a matter for individual hospitals, but it is vital to maintain staffing levels in critical services like maternity and so midwives and maternity support workers should be protected from redeployment.”