Health chiefs admit a lack of maternity beds is partly to blame for the crisis, with hundreds of women in labour being turned away from hospitals because they are full.

Latest figures show that over the past two years there were at least:

* 63 births in ambulances and 608 in transit to hospitals;
* 117 births in A&E departments, four in minor injury units and two in medical assessment areas;
* 115 births on other hospital wards and 36 in other unspecified areas including corridors;
* 399 in parts of maternity units other than labour beds, including postnatal and antenatal wards and reception areas.

Additionally, overstretched maternity units shut their doors to any more women in labour on 553 occasions last year.