Birth Trauma Inquiry: Is poor maternity care the norm across the UK?

13 May 2024 | Stephanie Prior
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Call for overhaul of maternity and post-natal care

An All-Party Parliamentary Group has called for a huge overhaul of maternity and post-natal care after hearing the distressing evidence of over 1,300 women who suffered traumatic perinatal experiences. The findings of the first UK inquiry into birth trauma will be presented to ministers today before the Health Secretary – Victoria Atkins – is expected to set out the government’s response.

The Birth Trauma Inquiry has asked for urgent change, including:

  • Ending a discernible postcode lottery on perinatal care.
  • A new Maternity Commissioner to be appointed.
  • For the government to publish a new national maternity strategy.

Birth trauma affects 30,000 women a year

Birth trauma refers to negative birth experiences, such as emergency caesarean sections or serious blood loss. Birth trauma is thought to affect 30,000 women a year in the UK, with one in 20 developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result. Common symptoms include re-experiencing traumatic events, using avoidance behaviours and feeling a heightened sense of threat[1].

There appears to be a common denominator within the experiences of birth trauma reported by women – the feeling that their concerns during pregnancy and/or childbirth is not listened to and dismissed. The public heard Gill Castle on BBC Breakfast[2], who has a stoma bag following injuries suffered during the birth of her baby boy, support that women need to be listened to rather than being made to feel that they are making “too much fuss”.

Other parents within the inquiry gave accounts of how mistakes and failures during their birthing process have resulted in premature babies, stillbirth or their babies suffering oxygen deprivation resulting in cerebral palsy. Further accounts explain how some women now suffer from chronic pain, bowel incontinence or have been unable to return to work following their experience.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4[3] this morning an anonymous caller recounted the harrowing experience of his wife, who gave birth in March 2024. He recalled that over 50% of the midwives on the ward were agency staff with no prior training in the hospitals policies and procedures. This led to a delay in diagnosis of his wife’s vaginal infection, and she lost around 82% of her blood during birth, subsequently requiring an ITU admission for 10-11 hours in an induced coma. This goes to highlight one of the largest challenges faced by the NHS, which is chronic understaffing of midwives and obstetricians.

It is important to differentiate between scaremongering and informing women of the risks of childbirth, a point which was emphasised by Gill Castle when speaking on BBC Breakfast.

Mothers to be offered appointment 6-8 weeks after giving birth

The Health Secretary has said GPs are now to offer all new mothers an appointment 6-8 weeks after giving birth, and by the end of the year new physical and mental health services will be rolled out. The Inquiry further hopes to kickstart the change that is needed in response to the evidence given.

The Inquiry has also found that women from marginalised groups, particularly ethnic minorities, appear to have experienced noticeably poor care. It is sadly the case that we recognise this pattern through the snapshot of enquiries our department receives. MMBRACE’s most recent report analysing data from 2020-2022, revealed that Black and Asian women had significantly higher rates of stillbirths. It was further found that black women are 1.5 times more likely to developed pre-eclampsia than white women and six times more likely to develop pre-eclampsia superimposed on chronic hypertension[4].

Advice and Support

Our clinical negligence team specialises in investigating maternity claims. If you think that you or a loved one has been suffered a birth injury due to potentially negligent care you can make an enquiry using our online form or by calling us on 020 7485 8811.

References:

[1] Listen to Mums: Ending the Postcode Lottery on Perinatal Care
[2] BBC Breakfast Interview, 13 May 2024
[3] BBC Radio 4 Segment, 13 May 2024
[4] Listen to Mums: Ending the Postcode Lottery on Perinatal Care

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