NHS maternity care from a London midwife's perspective

Posted: 18/12/2012


A recent article by a London based NHS midwife, writing in the Mail Online, has drawn attention to the lack of resources in maternity units.

The article presents a stark contrast between the TV image of midwifery in recent popular programmes, such as Call The Midwife and One Born Every Minute, and the reality of providing midwifery services in the NHS.

Describing the joys and stresses of work during a typical shift, problems such as short-staffing, under-qualified and inexperienced staff and inadequate care are highlighted. The article refers to figures produced by The Royal College of Midwives (RCM), showing that one in 20 midwifery posts are unfilled, while there is a countrywide shortage of 5,000 full-time midwives, with London being particularly affected. Figures quoted in the article show that while 11 women died in child birth in London between 2005 and 2006, more than double (29 women) lost their lives in this way between 2010 and 2011. In the last five years over 100 women have died in London - twice the number seen elsewhere in the country.

In a moving personal account, the midwife describes the chaotic and exhausting working environment of a typical London NHS midwife, who can expect to be on his or her feet 'for 12 hours without a break' and is often 'hopelessly overstretched' due to staff sickness and lack of recruitment. At night, wards can 'feel like station waiting rooms, only noisier and more chaotic and, occasionally, rather frightening…'; some maternity beds take three or four women a day with midwives under pressure to discharge mothers from hospital at the earliest opportunity.

Government figures for hospital trusts show one in four are failing to provide adequate quality or safety of care to mothers and new-born babies. The article quotes the chief executive of the RCM, Cathy Warwick, who, in November, stated: "NHS maternity services, especially in England, are on a knife-edge. We have carried shortages for years, but with the number of births going up and up and up I really believe we are at the limit of what maternity services can safely deliver."

Justine Spencer, an associate in Penningtons' clinical negligence team, commenting on the issues raised in the article, said: "The lack of resources in maternity units increases the potential risk of avoidable errors which could result in catastrophic consequences for both mother and baby."


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