Doctors attack race for millennium baby

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The Independent Online
THE RACE to conceive a millennium baby is certain to end in tears, doctors warned yesterday. Most mothers will fail to deliver at the appointed time, and the lives of their babies could be threatened if maternity services become dangerously overstretched.

More than nine out of ten couples trying to time the arrival of their babies to coincide with the dawn of the new millennium will be disappointed, obstetricians said. Only one in three will conceive in the next month, and of those only 4 per cent will give birth naturally on the "expected delivery date".

The expected boom in the number of couples trying to conceive over the next few weeks will impose a heavy burden on the maternity services at the turn of the year. The Royal College of Obstetricians said it expected staffing arrangements to be as for any weekend or public holiday, geared to emergencies only.

"There are concerns that the risks of complications in labour are slightly higher at [these times]", the college said. It added that parents should be dissuaded from requesting induction or a Caesarean to meet the millennial deadline. "The college would consider this highly undesirable unless there were medical indications."

Professor James Drife, vice-president, said: "I am very concerned that pregnancy is being treated as a game. A baby is for life, not just for the millennium."

The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association said the NHS was barely able to cope with the current average of 2,200 births a day because of a national shortage of midwives. "A severe bulge in this number will render the service in a state of collapse," it said.

Dr Robin Loveday, consultant obstetric anaesthetist at Pembury Hospital, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent, said: "Our hospital has 3,000 births a year, which works out at an average of eight a day. A sustained increase in births will increase hazards - for instance because you can't get a sick or premature baby into the special care baby unit. If other neighbouring hospitals have peaks at the same time you are in trouble as you can't transfer patients. The potential is there for producing a handicapped baby as a result of the overload on services."

The British Medical Association said the problem of staff shortages could be solved if the number of consultant posts in obstetrics and gynaecology was expanded to take the 400 obstetricians in training who will otherwise face redundancy over the next few years. It issued a warning last week about the impending waste of highly trained specialists, who will either have to retrain or seek work abroad. "We have a ready-made solution to this baby boom if the Government will grasp it," said a spokeswoman.

She added, however, that if any couple planning a millennium baby remained uncertain about the wisdom of trying, "there is still time to change your mind".