Midwives are warning that the current baby boom will lead to more than 700,000 children being born in England this year. Population growth is putting a severe strain on a cash-strapped NHS. This pressure, which is especially prevalent in the midwifery services, has forced the Royal College of Midwives, to issue a stark warning. (The Telegraph - New baby boom to put 'enormous' strain on NHS)
Professor Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives has put the issue into sharp focus by claiming that NHS maternity services in England “are on a knife-edge”. Even more dangerously, she warns that maternity services have reached the limit of what they can safely deliver to expectant mothers and their children, as a result of the staff shortages and cuts to the health services.
Despite government promises of an extra 3,000 midwives across the NHS, only 900 have been employed. According to the RCM, another 5,000 are needed across England if services are to match the rising birth rate. It is therefore no surprise that a recent RCM poll found 9 in 10 midwives felt that they could not give women all the care and support they needed.
Our resident midwifery expert, Sue Austin, knows all too well that midwives can frequently look after two or three labouring women at once. Sue has had recent experience of managing the labour of two women at the same time: she spent most of the birth with one mother, listening out for her other lady next door.
Fortunately both women delivered safely, but as Sue warns, this is not ideal management. It also means that women in labour can miss out on the support and re-assurance that a 1:1 midwife can give making it harder for women to enjoy the birth of their child, as they are entitled to.
Sue points to the example of Royal Bolton Hospital to illustrate the strain facing midwifery services. Bolton is one of the super units, created following closure of 3 northwest maternity units. They are expecting an estimated 8000 births this year against a previous of 4000. But against this, the Trust was unable to employ all the midwives from the closed units due to the fact that they are on the brink of bankruptcy.
There are several ways that women are affected by midwife shortages. Some reports have suggested that the high proportion of caesarean births is due, in part, to mothers opting for surgery because of a previous traumatic birth. Sue Austin has also pointed out that due to staff and room shortages, women who are having labour induced are frequently kept on the antenatal ward as long as possible without proper supervision and care.
The Medical Negligence solicitors at Pannone regularly bring claims against the NHS for injuries caused to mothers and babies during child birth. We recently commented on the NHSLA’s report, Ten Years of Maternity Claims Report, which found that most failures were due to human error and warned that maternity services must be improved through more effective training and development of staff.
We are concerned that a baby boom, plus budget and staff cuts, will mean that expectant mothers face extremely poor standards of care and possibly negligent treatment. We are in no doubt that the NHSLA are keen to avoid reporting further bad news in their next 10 year review, so we would urge the government to closely examine the state of the NHS’s midwifery services.
If you are concerned about the care you have received during pregnancy or childbirth and you would like to discuss this, please do not hesitate to contact me, or our qualified midwife, Sue Austin. For more information, please see our website which explains more about poor maternity care and birth injury claims.