Sunday, March 04, 2007

Unwelcome Sunday reading

Just what we wanted to see as we cheerily popped into Somerfield to pick up some Pain au Chocolat and a paper on our way back from Kids on Sunday!

This comes on the back of other recent plans for maternity care as previously reported in this blog.

There are several related articles at The Independent Online website today.

The headline article is reproduced below for convenience.


Women's deaths soar in NHS midwives crisis
By Sophie Goodchild, Jonathan Owen and Ian Griggs
Published: 04 March 2007

Record numbers of women are being harmed or dying as a direct result of childbirth in what doctors are labelling a "crisis" in maternity care.

There has been a rise of 21 per cent in deaths of pregnant women in the care of NHS maternity services. Deaths over the past three years now total 391, up one fifth on the comparable period, and 17,000 women have suffered physical harm while on labour wards.

The scale of the maltreatment has led to soaring medical negligence claims from mothers. The bill to the NHS has hit £1bn for the past five years. Two-thirds of the 100 largest payouts by NHS trusts for medical negligence are now to women who have suffered traumatic childbirth experiences, according to figures published this week by the Government.

A survey of nearly 5,000 women's experiences of maternity from the Healthcare Commission, to be published to coincide with Mother's Day later this month, is also expected to highlight a lack of satisfaction among patients with medical care during labour and delivery.

Experts are warning that 10,000 more midwives are needed to prevent a further rise in blunders and deaths. They say there is also a shortage of trained obstetricians, desperately needed now that doctors perform more Caesarean sections, largely because of staff shortages. More than one in five births in Britain are by Caesarean section, a figure significantly higher than World Health Organisation guideline of 15 per cent.

The NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, set up to improve healthcare for patients, said that about two-thirds of maternity units either have too few staff or have an "inappropriate" balance of skills.

Professor Jason Gardosi from the NHS's Perinatal Institute, which aims to reduce deaths in childbirth, warned that failings in British maternity care were "severe and endemic" and that substandard medical care was going undetected because of a lack of proper monitoring.

He told The Independent on Sunday: "Staff are doing their best within the confines they are given but in many instances, mothers and babies survive only because they are lucky. You would not allow an aeroplane to fly without a full crew, but midwives have to make do without a full staff. It is little wonder we see so many avoidable deaths."

Figures obtained by this newspaper from the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) reveal that over the past three years, 17,676 mothers have been injured on maternity units. Serious cases include women with perforated bowels whose injuries are so severe they have needed temporary colostomies.

The UK now has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in Europe, with 13 deaths per 100,000. Britain ranks below countries including Poland and Hungary, and is above Bulgaria, Bosnia, Belarus, Romania, Armenia and Albania.

The Healthcare Commission is planning a review of maternity services which will be published this summer. Mike Hancock MP said: "There is a real issue here and sadly this is an area where the Government has been neglectful. It isn't just about throwing money at it. It is also about putting proper procedures in place."

Katherine Murphy of the Patients' Association added: "The Government is closing lots of maternity units and making midwives redundant. Now you have healthcare assistants doing the job of senior midwives because it's the cheaper option."

The Department of Health said that giving birth is "safer now than ever before" but admits that for many women pregnancy and childbirth has turned into a medical event.Andrew Lansley, shadow Health Secretary, labelled Labour's approach to maternity care "irresponsible".

He said: "In the last five years, we have seen a huge increase in the number of live births but no increase in the number of midwives. Some mothers can't get the one-to-one midwife care or level of midwife support which should be regarded as basic."