Birth trauma report finds care is postcode lottery

An inquiry set up to discover why some women have traumatic experiences in childbirth has called for an overhaul of the UK’s maternity and postnatal care. The Birth Trauma Inquiry heard “harrowing” evidence from more than 1,300 women – some said they were left in blood-soaked sheets while others said their children had suffered life-changing injuries due to medical negligence.

A new maternity commissioner who would report directly to the prime minister is a key recommendation in the group’s report. Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said she was determined to improve the quality and consistency of care for women.

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said the experiences outlined in the report “are simply not good enough”.

The findings of the report will be presented to ministers on Monday, before Ms Atkins is expected to set out the government’s response. It is estimated that 30,000 women a year, in the UK alone, have suffered negative experiences during the delivery of their babies. One-in-20 develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Tory MP Theo Clarke, who chaired the inquiry, told the BBC there was “a postcode lottery” for maternity care in this country. Speaking to BBC Radio 4 Today programme, she said: “I don’t think is acceptable – that depending on where you live, you will literally be offered a different level of care in terms of how you’re given support during childbirth and afterwards.”

Ms Clarke said she hoped the government, who she said had worked “very constructively” with the inquiry, would implement all the recommendations made by the report.

Describing her own personal experience of giving birth, she said: “I remember pressing the emergency button after I’d come out of surgery and a lady came in and said she couldn’t help me, said it wasn’t her baby, wasn’t her problem and walked out and left me there. So we need to make sure there are safe levels of staffing.”

In an emotional speech in the House of Commons in October, Ms Clarke broke down as she described being rushed into emergency surgery after the birth of her daughter, terrified that she was going to die.

She bled heavily after suffering a third-degree tear and had to undergo a two-hour surgery without general anaesthetic, due to an earlier epidural.

Helen, a mother, was described in the report as still suffering from mental and physical pain – years after the birth of her son, Julian. He was born with a hypoxic brain injury as a result of proven medical negligence during his birth.

“My life will never be as it should be,” she told the inquiry. “I never returned to work, I live a very secluded life, as friends and family shun you when you have a disabled child that they might not understand or are scared of.”

The report called for a “base standard in maternity services” across the UK and an end to the postcode lottery of perinatal care. It said mothers should be given “universal access to specialist maternal mental health services across the UK”.

It also urged the government to outline how it would “recruit, train and retain more midwives, obstetricians and anaesthetists to ensure safe levels of staffing in maternity services and provide mandatory training on trauma-informed care
In the report, Ms Clarke and her co-chair Labour MP Rosie Duffield said the inquiry wanted to start a public discussion “on the realities of giving birth and how we can practically improve maternity services” – as well as share the stories and experiences of both mothers and fathers.

Another key suggestion was to “provide support for fathers and ensure [a] nominated birth partner is continuously informed and updated during labour and post-delivery”.

The report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Birth Trauma included 12 recommendations in total, including a plea for mothers’ health records to be digitised.

Health Secretary Ms Atkins said in a statement in response to the report that she was grateful to the women who came forward to share their experiences.

“I am determined to improve the quality and consistency of care for women throughout pregnancy, birth and the critical months that follow, and I fully support work to develop a comprehensive national strategy to improve our maternity services,” she said.

Ms Atkins also highlighted progress in GP appointments for all new mothers after giving birth to check in with how women are doing, and by the end-of-the year completing the roll-out of new physical and mental services for new mothers and pregnant women available in all areas of England.

She added: “We are now investing £186m a year more than in 2021 to improve maternity and neonatal care, and we announced an extra £35 million at the Spring Budget to boost maternity safety, with more midwives and better training.”

The NHS said it was working with leaders at all trusts with maternity and neonatal services in England on a national programme to create a culture where women are listened to and care is safe.

NHS chief executive Ms Pritchard said: “We know there is more that can be done to prevent and improve support for birth trauma, which is why we are committed to working with the Department for Health and Social Care on a cross-government strategy to build on the NHS three-year delivery plan for maternity and neonatal services, so that we can continue to make care safer and more personalised for women and babies

Source: BBC

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