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In a report presented to MPs in January 2013 the Royal College of Midwives reveal that midwifery staff in hospitals across England and Wales are lacking in numbers which is leading to reduced focus on wider midwifery duties including breastfeeding classes, health and dietary advice and also, more seriously, exposing mothers and babies to potentially substandard care during labour.
The report by the Royal College of Midwives is the latest in a string of highly publicised calls for improved midwifery services in England and Wales. In the report the RCM recommends that an additional 5,000 midwives are needed to adequately staff maternity hospitals dealing with the highest birth rates in the UK since the 1970s.
In March 2013 the Royal Cornwall Hospital actively sought to recruit an extra 11 midwives after a report revealed that staff were “managing a level of risk that may leave staff and patients vulnerable”.
The specialist medical negligence solicitors in the Clinical Negligence Team often hear from mothers how they saw numerous different midwives throughout their pregnancy and felt unable to form a relationship of trust and confidence with them because they changed so frequently. What is more concerning is we are often told that women were left alone during long periods of their labour and some hospitals will admit that they cannot guarantee midwifery support throughout an entire labour contrary to guidelines that women should receive one to one attention during this final and most complex stage of their pregnancy.
This significant shortfall in the number of full time midwives exposes women to a reduced standard of care throughout their pregnancy and directly puts them and their babies at risk during delivery. If a baby does not receive sufficient oxygen during labour, than it can sometimes only take a period of ten minutes before brain damage may start to occur, and therefore it is vital that midwives are on hand to react quickly to such an emergency, and this is made extremely difficult if the midwife has too many mothers to look after at one time because of a shortage of colleagues.
In 2011, in a case involving the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, a lack of sufficient midwifery support and training led to a mother’s heart beat being mistaken for that of the baby’s during labour. Consequently the baby was not monitored during labour, it was not known that the baby became distressed during labour and, when finally delivered some 15 hours later, the baby was sadly stillborn.
This case, and others, highlights the importance of continuity and quality of care for mothers of all ages and experience during pregnancy and delivery and this must be better appreciated. Lack of proper care inevitably leads to mistakes being made and we support the RCM’s calls for increased attention on getting more potential midwives into training and into practice. It is reported that 750,000 babies are expected to be born in the next year. The pressure on the NHS’ maternity services is continually increasing and can only be relieved with by having additional staff on hand to provide an acceptable standard of care and to avoid a rise in midwife negligence claims.