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Posted 11 August 2017
by Endurance Arthur

National Maternity and Perinatal Audit Report Says Shortage of Doctors and Midwives is Putting Lives at Risk

baby in mothers arms

The first report from the National Maternity and Perinatal Audit (NMPA) was published today.  The inquiry was undertaken jointly by the royal colleges representing Obstetricians, midwives and paediatricians, and academics from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Health and received evidence from all 155 NHS trusts and boards in three countries in the UK.  The research was funded by the NHS’s Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP) and covers maternity services in England, Scotland and Wales. It is said to be the “the largest evaluation of NHS maternity and neonatal services undertaken in Britain”.

The report reveals that key aspects of maternity care have improved over the last decade. For example, the number of midwife-led units next to acute hospitals has increased four-fold.  This has increased the chances that women whose pregnancy is deemed low-risk have a much greater chance of giving birth in a non- medicalised setting.

Unfortunately, the report also reveals a lack of trained obstetricians and midwives so severe that many women are not getting the care during labour that they are entitled to.  Almost 9 out of 10 units are struggling to recruit enough middle-grade doctors to ensure proper staffing levels. Experts say, that because of the high risk of serious and unexpected complications during birth, staffing shortages are putting women and babies at risk.  Complications can include fetal distress, in which the baby suffers a lack of oxygen, which can lead to severe brain damage, and severe blood loss in the mother just after the birth.

In 2016 NHS England promised to introduce “personalised care, centred on the woman, her baby and her family” as part of which “every woman should have a midwife, who is part of a small team of four to six midwives, based in the community, who knows the women and family, and can provide continuity throughout the pregnancy, birth and postnatally.”

Researchers also found that the midwife shortage is so acute that fewer than one in six of the 750,000 women who give birth a year sees the same person throughout her pregnancy and aftercare, despite promises that this should happen. The help women receive after giving birth is described as patchy and too often “low” by the report’s authors.

Commenting on the report, Endurance Arthur who specialises in birth injury claims said, it is great to note that the report confirms that women with low risk pregnancy now have a greater chance of giving birth in a midwifery led setting. However the lack of trained staff to look after the women who are at high risk is major concern.  It is a fact that during a difficult or complicated birth, if potential problems are diagnosed by appropriately trained staff and addressed, early intervention can prevent devastating birth injuries such as cerebral palsy and Erb’s palsy and maternal and baby deaths can be avoided.  The clear message from the report is that more still needs to be done by the NHS.  We can only hope that the report’s recommendations are considered properly and followed by the NHS.

Should you or a family member wish to discuss a potential claim arising from a birth injury, please call our specialist team of medical negligence solicitors for a free and confidential consultation.

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About the author

endurance arthur

Partner and solicitor in the medical negligence department and a member of the Law Society's Clinical Negligence Panel