Doctor Links Understaffing With Infant Mortality

300 Babies Die A Year During Childbirth And A Further 1,200 Developing Serious Health Problems


The UK's leading obstetrician has said it is "legitimate" to ask questions about whether understaffing is contributing to high infant mortality and birth injury rates.

Dr David Richmond, who heads up the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said that almost 300 babies a year are dying either during childbirth, or soon after their mother's labour, with a further 1,200 developing brain damage or serious health problems.

Infant deaths are caused by a range of issues, but Dr Richmond said that a baby boom in the UK over the last ten years has come at the same time as a shortage of both midwives and doctors in the NHS, reports the Guardian.

Speaking on the subject of staff shortages, Dr Richmond said it is a "legitimate question" to ask whether pressure on resources has contributed to this heightened death rate.

"We need to look at the possibility that understaffing, labour wards that are under pressure and busy, and stretched facilities may be a factor in some of these poor outcomes," the doctor told the Guardian.

The UK has the third-highest stillbirth rate among the 35 richest countries in the world, according to a study published in the Lancet journal in 2011 and while this has improved since then, Dr Richmond argues that more needs to be done.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows there are 4.9 stillbirths for every 1,000 healthy labours in the UK, but with tight finances, Dr Richmond argues mothers are being put at risk of serious harm due to a lack of midwives.

Dr Dan Poulter, health minister, said childbirth on the NHS is safe and that stillbirths are declining.

"The numbers of stillbirths and infant mortalities are at the lowest levels since 1993, but there is still more to do. The NHS is a safe place to give birth, with women reporting high levels of trust and confidence in staff," said Dr Poulter, who is also an obstetrician.

If you or a family member suffered injuries during pregnancy or birth you might be entitled to claim. Visit our Pregnancy Claims or Birth Injury Claims pages for more information.

Expert Opinion
The suggestion that the extent of the shortages is placing mothers and children at risk is a huge concern and this issue clearly needs to be examined as a matter of urgency.

“We unfortunately see first-hand the devastating problems that mothers and babies can face when they do not have access to the best possible care, with birth injuries and complications in pregnancy often leading youngsters to need a lifetime of rehabilitation and care. This data from the Office of National Statistics only serves to show that there is much more to be done to ensure that families have the best support in what is often the most important time of their lives.

“Patient safety should always be a priority for both the NHS and government. They need to tackle the issue of understaffing as a matter of urgency.

“Pregnancy and birth injuries can have a massive psychological and physical impact on victims. It is critical that efforts should be made to prevent such problems from occurring in the first place.”
Lisa Jordan, Partner