The NHS’s maternity unit failings

Having a baby should be a joyful experience.

Families should be able to rely on the medical professionals around them to ensure everything goes according to plan, helping to bring their children into the world.

But that isn’t always the case. Recently, there have been a number of instances where maternity services have not been delivered appropriately.

Shropshire trust failings

The situation in Shropshire has brought widespread attention to the issue of gynaecological negligence. The scandal involving baby deaths and failings on the maternity wards at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH) has rarely been out of the news in recent weeks.

It has resulted in inquiries and reports that point out how women and babies were failed and harmed.

The majority of these incidents took place between 200 and 2019. Multiple traumatic childbirths were recorded, with reports that natural births were prioritised by medical staff above the safety of women and babies.

Making improvements

Maternity units are in need of strong leadership, healthcare professionals to challenge poor workplace culture, and ringfenced funding. This is according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCOM).

The colleges released that statement following the publication of senior independent midwife Donna Ockenden’s interim report into the SaTH maternity services. She is looking into 1,862 cases of unnecessary harm or death to mothers and babies at the trust.

As a result of the inquiry, all NHS trusts in England have been instructed to implement 12 urgent actions to improve maternity safety. They have until 5pm on 21 December to do so.

The actions include giving women experiencing complex pregnancies a named consultant, as well as ensuring that foetal heart rates are monitored and consultant-led ward rounds happen twice a day every day of the week.

Dr Eddie Morris, president of the RCOG, has also told Parliament’s health select committee that in order to adopt all the recommendations in the Ockenden report, trusts may need a 20% rise in the number of consultant obstetricians working on maternity units.

Meanwhile, the RCOM has said NHS England needs another 3,000 midwives to provide a safe service to women in childbirth.

The impact

The Ockenden report highlights how “serious complications and deaths resulting from maternity care have an everlasting impact on families”.

It is for this reason that hospitals and NHS trusts must ensure they are providing the quality of care expected of them – or face legal action.

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