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Maternity services in crisis

Maternity services in crisis

November 24, 2021

There are rising concerns about the safety of the UK’s maternity units, with staffing levels at breaking point and midwives campaigning over fears for patient safety. Here, our clinical negligence experts explore the ongoing maternity crisis and what it means for patient care.

Staffing issues continue to place extreme pressure on our maternity services. According to the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), NHS workforce statistics show that the number of NHS midwives working in England in May had fallen by almost 300 in just two months – the fastest fall since the report began 20 years ago.

Furthermore, a survey conducted by the RCM in August this year found that over half of midwives surveyed said they were considering leaving their job as a midwife, with staffing levels and concerns around safe care as some of the top reasons for leaving or thinking about leaving. The College is warning of a midwife exodus, which could increase pressure on an already struggling system.

March with Midwives

In light of the crisis, thousands of midwives stepped out over the weekend to voice their concerns. ‘March with Midwives’ saw maternity staff from across the UK hold vigils to raise awareness of key issues, including working conditions and poor staffing levels. Campaigners hope that by highlighting the issue, the government will take heed and provide some much-needed support.

Patient care at risk

At the centre of the maternity crisis, patient care is at risk. Midwives do a difficult job under extreme pressure, and the majority of women and babies are given excellent care, but unfortunately, there are times when substandard care is offered to mother and baby, meaning that avoidable harm or suffering is caused to either or both parties.

At Fletchers, we specialise in supporting families with birth injury claims. Among the situations we can help with are cases where there has been:

Injuries to the mother during the delivery. For example

– Perineal trauma (3rd or 4th degree tears)
– Bladder damage
– Caesarean section complications

Stillbirth
• Cosmetic injury to the child from an instrumental delivery
An unnecessary or unplanned caesarean section
• Retained placenta with complications of sepsis/infection

The fear is that the ongoing crisis will increase the number of cases like these. Head of Medical Negligence at Fletchers, Christian Beadell comments:

The midwifery service has come under increasing strain in recent years with low staff numbers and pressures of increased births. It’s crucial that improvements are made and quickly to ensure the safety of both mothers and babies.

There have been a number of initiatives looking at the maternity services, most notably the national Maternity Review (“Better Births”) in 2016 and the Maternity Transformation Programme which was intended to implement the proposals from the Maternity Review. Despite this, the maternity service remains at full stretch and those on the front line now feel that they need to demonstrate across the country in protest over the dangers that they and their patients are exposed to.

There are some positive signs with the Avoiding Brain Injury in Childbirth programme having recently announced a £3m funding pledge. Announced by the Minister for Patient Safety, Maria Caulfield, the fund will be used to support the Royal College of Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute in their aim to halve the rate of brain injury during or soon after birth by 2025.

While this is positive news, we must hope that the maternity crisis is given the attention it deserves and that midwives are given the immediate support they so desperately need. Maternity staff have a right to feel that they can deliver the correct levels of care and women deserve to know that when they embark on pregnancy – a time that should be exciting and fulfilling, that they and their babies are in safe hands.

Christian Beadell is Head of Medical Negligence at Fletchers. For help navigating the legal process, call us now on 0330 013 0251 – we’re here to listen.

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