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Midwife's errors led to death of baby

A FORMER president of the Royal College of Midwives was found guilty of serious professional misconduct yesterday after she mishandled the delivery of a breech birth which left the baby girl dead and the mother collapsed and bleeding on the floor.

Caroline Flint, a pioneer of natural childbirth who founded the first private "birth centre", in south London, escaped with a caution after the disciplinary body, the UK Central Council for Nurses Midwives and Health Visitors, found she had failed to recognise maternal collapse in the third stage of labour and had failed to make adequate observations and keep adequate notes. Four other charges were rejected.

The verdict is a blow to the natural childbirth movement which believes that independent midwives promoting home births are under siege from a medical establishment driven by fear of litigation. Supporters of Ms Flint say Britain is moving to a culture in which the majority of women have some intervention in childbirth and that normal birth is becoming rare.

Sheila Kitzinger, the childbirth expert, said: "It has happened to a really superb midwife and in that way it is a blow. She is an example of what a midwife should be. But none of us are perfect."

The three-day hearing was told that when the baby's mother, Mrs A, went into labour on 7 November 1995, Ms Flint drove her to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital where she spent three hours in a birthing pool. Although she asked Ms Flint repeatedly whether she should have a Caesarian because the baby was in the breech position she was reassured that everything was all right.

As Mrs A went into the second and third stages of labour a doctor came in but Ms Flint sent him away, saying he was not needed yet. When the delivery came it was very quick and the baby was whisked away for resuscitation.

Mrs A, herself a midwife, told the hearing: "Nobody said anything for a while. I expected somebody to say `It's a boy' or `It's a girl' but nobody said anything. More and more people came in and I had the sense that something was not right. I got quite hysterical and said "Don't let my baby die'. A senior paediatrician said they had done everything they could."

The mother lay collapsed on the floor and required surgical removal of the placenta and was given a blood transfusion.

A post-mortem examination on the child, posthumously named Alicia, found that she had been starved of oxygen between 12 and 24 hours before delivery. Mrs A said she had accepted the death and only questioned it after she had her second child, a boy who was also in the breech position, and was struck by the contrast in care from the doctors and nurses who attended her.