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Maternal Deaths Caused By Substandard Care

Maternal Deaths Caused By Substandard Care

A report seen by BBC Panorama reveals proper maternity care could have avoided 17 maternal deaths in London over the past 18 months.

The report was compiled by an independent body, which was called in to investigate after the number of maternal deaths in the first half of 2009 exceeded the entire total in 2008.

It was found 17 out of the 42 maternal deaths could have been prevented. The report also concluded that some hospitals' own inquiries into the fatalities were “defensive in nature”, often failing in accuracy and objectivity.

Commenting on the report, NHS London's chief nurse said it had addressed shortcomings, not only in the maternity services, but across the whole organisation.

These sentiments were reiterated by Professor Trish Morris-Thompson, a practising midwife with NHS London. She said: “There were a number of opportunities to prevent death occurring and because of that, we have taken enough action across the organisations in London and we will continue to do so to put right those actions.”

Panorama also used the Freedom of Information Act to examine the provision of maternity services across the UK.

A survey was sent to all maternity units across the country – 171 in total – with replies coming from 88% of them.

The findings revealed that in 2010:-

  • Maternity units temporarily closed their doors to new admissions 1055 times;
  • 927 women had to be transferred to alternative maternity units (a 32% increase from 2009);
  • In almost 50% of cases, closures were necessary because of staffing issues;
  • The second most common reason for closures was because units were at full capacity.

It was also found that the vacancy rate for midwives across England is 5%, while in some London NHS Trusts the vacancy rate is as high as 20%.

This is a particular cause for concern, with the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) suggesting at least an extra 4,700 midwives need to be employed across England and Wales to provide a safe service.

The college's Cathy Warwick said: “The problem I think for midwives now is that the pressure is relentless and none of us can keep our standards as high as they should be if day after day we're working under extreme pressure.”

Health Minister Paul Burstow said: “Safety is paramount in the NHS and all mothers and their babies should expect and receive consistently excellent maternity care.

“We will continue to work with the Royal College of Midwives to make sure we have an appropriately resourced and skilled maternity workforce based on the most up-to-date evidence.”

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