Half of maternity units are short of senior doctors warn MPs

Half of maternity units are short of senior doctors warn MPs

More than half of Britain’s maternity units are putting the lives of babies at risk because they are not providing adequate round the clock cover, a damning report by MPs has warned.  The Commons Public Accounts Committee said most units do not have enough senior doctors, with poorer care at weekends leaving women at higher risk of complications.

The report said women and babies were being left at higher risk of infections and injury at weekends because of shortages of staff, with just 47 per cent of units having enough consultants, and a national shortage of 2,300 midwives.

MPs said shortages of midwives and lack of beds meant more than a quarter of maternity units had to close to new patients for half a day or more between April and September 2012.

While many women have good experiences, “performance and outcomes could be much better”, the report said. The committee said: “Although there have been substantial improvements in levels of consultant presence on labour wards in recent years, over half of obstetric units were still not meeting the levels recommended by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists at September 2012.” More than 5,000 babies were stillborn or died within seven days of birth in England - 1 in 133 cases, a rate that is higher than elsewhere in the UK, and than in other European countries, the report said.

One fifth of the maternity budget is now spent on negligence cases - a bill that has risen by 80 per cent in five years.

The report said: “The most common reasons for maternity claims have been mistakes in the management of labour and relating to Caesarean sections, and errors resulting in cerebral palsy. “The clinical negligence bill for maternity services is too high. “Maternity cases account for a third of total clinical negligence payments and the number of maternity claims has risen by 80 per cent over the last five years. “Some £480 million, nearly a fifth of trusts’ spending on maternity services, is for clinical negligence cover, equivalent to £700 per birth.”

Labour MP, Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said: “Despite an overall increase in the number of midwives there is still a shortage of 2,300 that are required to meet current birth rates - a truly worrying figure.

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives said: “Maternity services are many thousands of midwives short of the number needed to deliver safe, high quality care. “The birthrate remains exceptionally high and as this and the National Audit Office report states, births are also becoming increasingly complex. “This puts even more demands on midwives and maternity services. “We are seeing areas such as antenatal and postnatal care in particular suffering because trusts often do not have enough midwives to provide consistent and high quality care before and after pregnancy.”

Maternity minister Dr Dan Poulter said: “This report rightly finds that the vast majority of women have positive experiences of NHS maternity care. The NHS remains one of the safest places in the world to give birth and results out just yesterday found that most women would recommend their maternity care to their friends and family. “We have reversed the historic decline in midwife numbers. There are now 1,500 more working in our NHS and we have a record 5,000 in training.


By Laura Donnelly and agencies

The Telegraph

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