East Hertfordshire NHS Trust said yesterday that it had 'disciplined' the midwives who assisted in a water birth delivery on 16 January. The trust said 'inadequate research' had been undertaken on water birth safety and that 'delivery in water' was not offered by the trust.
The trust would not confirm that the three midwives - involved in the home delivery of Valerie French's daughter, Mollie - had been immediately suspended. Two of the midwives received written warnings at a disciplinary hearing of the trust yesterday. All three are understood to be back at work.
The decision, according to Ruth Ashton, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, leaves a serious mark on the midwives' records. Stating the trust's action was 'unjust, unprecedented and unacceptable' she added: 'It is outrageous that midwives are disciplined for granting a woman's request that her baby be born in the birthing pool. What should they have done? Forcibly removed her?'
After five hours in labour in the water, Ms French, 35, a college lecturer from Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, said she did not want to leave the water for the birth. 'I was asked to get out, but was in no position to climb out the water pool. The midwives could have either walked out in which case I would have had a case for negligence. In my opinion they took the only option possible. I was horrified when I heard later they had been suspended.' The baby was born safely.
Miss Ashton said she would be taking the matter up with health ministers. The college insists that no midwife should have to override a woman's choice.
In recent months there have been concerns over the medical safety of water births. About one in 10,000 UK deliveries are in birth pools.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said last year that water bathing 'in labour' was to be encouraged, but that babies delivered underwater faced 'the potential problem of gasping before the baby's nose and mouth are above the surface, thus inhaling bath water'. The college urged the Department of Health to continue monitoring the process. At present, the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit in Oxford is involved in a long-term study of water births.