Mothers at risk in care crisis

Shock report attacks lack of maternity beds and midwife shortage

A devastating report on the state of Britain's maternity services has concluded that they put the lives of women and their babies at risk.

The first national inquiry into maternity care by the Healthcare Commission, the NHS watchdog, has revealed a critical shortage of midwives, obstetricians absent from wards, a lack of beds and poor continuity of care. These have contributed to high death rates in some units and threaten the long-term health of mothers and their babies in others.

The inquiry, which is the largest ever carried out, involved all 150 NHS maternity units in England. It was triggered by separate full-scale investigations conducted at three trusts where mothers and babies died, which revealed failings indicative of a national pattern.

The three trusts were Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow, where 10 mothers died between 2002 and 2005, New Cross in Wolverhampton, where three babies died in two months in 2003, and Ashford & St Peters in Surrey, where there was a series of serious incidents in 2000 and 2001.

The Healthcare Commission said the root cause of poor performance was weak leadership by managers and medical staff. Many trusts were critically short of midwives, with numbers ranging from 40 per 1,000 births in the best-staffed trusts to 25 per 1,000 in the worst.

Only two-thirds of trusts had a consultant present on their wards for 40 hours a week – the basic safety standard laid down by the Royal College of Obstetricians. The study also revealed a five-fold variation in the number of consultants among trusts, from 3.3 to 0.6 per 1,000 births. In some trusts this meant consultants were present on the wards for just 10 hours a week.

More than £660m was paid out by NHS trusts in the three years to 2007 in negligence cases for obstetric claims – enough to hire 1,000 extra consultant obstetricians. Maternity services account for one in 10 requests to the Healthcare Commission to investigate particular trusts. Today's report, which included surveys of 5,000 staff and 26,000 mothers, says nine out of 10 mothers rated their care as good. But it said there were "significant weaknesses", with wide variations in standards between trusts. Many of the problems identified in earlier investigations were widespread, suggesting that NHS trusts are not giving maternity services priority. Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of the commission, said: "I don't ever again want to be reading another report into high death rates at a maternity unit."

Maternal and infant deaths in Britain are at record lows, but the consequences of errors can be catastrophic. A tiny mistake can result in oxygen deprivation and brain damage to the baby, resulting in life-long disability and huge compensation payouts.

In January, ministers announced £330m of funding over three years for maternity services, including a commitment to recruit 4,000 midwives by 2012 and to give all women a choice of where to have their baby by the end of 2009. But the Royal College of Midwives claims these targets are a long way from being hit.

A key finding of the 2006 study into the maternal deaths at Northwick Park was that consultants were spending insufficient time on labour wards. Research shows that the presence of consultants can improve care and reduce the number of Caesareans. Dangerous levels of overcrowding were revealed. Some trusts had as few as two beds per 1,000 births, meaning that each had to accommodate more than one woman a day. The pressure on obstetric units meant that staff tended to intervene medically rather than let nature take its course. Research shows that 60 per cent of births should be "normal", but fewer than half of women achieve a normal birth and in a quarter of trusts it is less than a third.

Anne Milton, a Conservative health spokesman, said: "This report exposes Labour's neglect. Doctors and midwives are working hard to give women the best care, but the Government isn't giving them the support." The Government's chief nursing officer, Christine Beasley, said: "We welcome the report which acknowledges that most women have a positive experience of pregnancy and childbirth. Some trusts are doing well and we will work with others that need support."

Click here to have your say

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
News
people
News
people
Life and Style
tech Manband spurn Spotify to stream album exclusively with Google
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Developer / App Developer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join one of the UK's...

    Recruitment Genius: Retail Deputy Manager / Sales Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen in a Winche...

    Argyll Scott International: Financial Accounting Manager

    £300 - £400 per day: Argyll Scott International: I am currently recruiting on ...

    Recruitment Genius: Field Based Sales Surveyor - OTE £40,000

    £16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Field Based Sales Surveyor is...

    Day In a Page

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?