Since 2014 over half of NHS hospitals have had to close their maternity wards amid a growing shortage of beds and midwives. This week it was revealed that a further eleven maternity and neonatal units across England face closure or consolidation and will be forced to turn away expecting mothers. Those which are marked to shut or move substantial distances include Lancashire and South Cumbria, West Yorkshire and Harrogate, South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Rutland, Birmingham and Solihull, Milton Keynes, Dorset, Coventry and Warwickshire.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) warned that if more space is not made, the squeezing of services could have a major impact. Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, says, “When services are operating at or beyond their capacity, safety is compromised and mistakes can, and almost certainly will be made, through no fault of the dedicated staff delivering the service. The Government is responsible for this and it is they who are letting down women, babies and their families, as well as the staff they purport to value. This is simply not acceptable.”
The Royal College of Midwives annual report emphasised that even if more space becomes available, maternity services across Britain will still face a high chance of reaching “crisis point”, as more than a third of British midwives are nearing retirement age. More student midwives need to be trained and start work in the NHS as a “matter of urgency”, the RCM’s State of Maternity Services report said.
In the last year 42% of units which were forced to close were shut because they could not cope and more than 90% of the senior midwives said their unit was dealing with more complex cases than the previous year, while 30% said they did not have enough midwives – a trend that midwives fear will continue to increase if changes are not implemented.
But a Department of Health spokesperson reassured that, “we are actively ensuring we continue to have enough midwives in the NHS — already there are over 2,100 more since 2010, with 6,300 more in training. The way we model midwife training places actually takes into account projected retirement rates. We have also invested millions of pounds in staff training and new equipment to help the NHS become one of the safest places in the world to have a baby.” The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have also already actioned plans to help relieve pressure across maternity wards. In December 2014, NICE began recommending midwife-led units for low-risk births – which applies to 45% of women, as opposed to maternity wards at hospitals. Research carried out by NICE found that the rate of interventions, such as the use of forceps or epidurals, was lower and the “outcome for the baby is no different compared with an obstetric unit”.
Despite the advantages of giving birth in a midwife-led unit the Birth Trauma Association said, “They are recommended but there simply isn’t the data to support that recommendation for first-time mothers”, which suggests that midwife-led units are most suitable for mothers who have already had a low-risk birth with their first child. But a spokesperson for the Department of Health said, “The Government is clear that the reconfiguration of front-line health services is a matter for the local NHS, which is now for the first time controlled by local doctors and nurses, who know best what their patients need.”
Adam Hodson, an Associate Solicitor for the Medical Accident Group, “It is promising to see that the NHS are already enforcing plans to relieve the pressure faced by staff across the board. Unfortunately, although midwife-led units help, they cannot singlehandedly resolve the problem, and we can’t deny that there is an ever-rising birth rate for which there aren’t enough midwives. Now it is extremely important that there is a focus on expediting the training of student midwives, in order to manage the influx of expecting mothers.”
Here at the Medical Accident Group, our specialist team have a wealth of experience in helping those who have unfortunately fallen victim to negligent care, including both mother and baby who have been affected during birth. We recently settled a claim involving a delay in delivery leading to a very serious brain injury. The child received an award of £3.9million.
If you or your baby has been affected in a similar way, talk to us for free today on 0800 050 1668 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.