Almost 4,000 women in England gave birth in locations other than a designated hospital labour bed in 2008 - a 15 per cent increase over the previous year, new figures reveal.

The data, obtained by the Conservative Party, shows 1,548 unplanned home births, 38 births in an ambulance, 333 on way to hospital, 63 in accident and emergency and 171 in an antenatal ward or area.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “New mothers should not be put through the trauma of having to give birth in such inappropriate places.”

Overstretched services have been blamed for many of the cases. The Tories said previous studies had shown that maternity units had to shut their doors to women in labour 553 times last year because they were full.

The information was acquired under the Freedom of Information Act from 117 of the 147 trusts in England that provide maternity services.

Care services minister Phil Hope said: “We recognise that some parts of the country face particular challenges due to the rising birth rate and that is why last year we pledged to increase funding for maternity by £330m over three years and we expect to see 4,000 extra midwives by 2012.”

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