NHS Midwife Shortage Raises Concerns For The Health Of Mothers And Their Babies

Budget Cuts Also Increase The Prospects Of Mistakes Being Made

15.10.2015

Expert lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have warned that budget concerns and a shortage of midwifes in the NHS present a real risk of tragic mistakes being made and have questioned if enough is being done to support people working in these challenging conditions.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) have said that a shortage of midwives was having a major impact and mistakes would "almost certainly be made".

The RCM said budget cuts were also affecting services, with midwives struggling to cope with a rising birth rate and increasingly complex births.

A poll of 83 heads of midwifery at NHS trusts found there had been a rise in the number of units that had closed their doors. More than 90% of the midwives polled said their unit was dealing with more complex cases than the previous year and 30% said they did not have enough midwives.

Their chief executive Cathy Warwick said: "All of this shows a system that is creaking at the seams and only able to deliver high quality care through the efforts and dedication of its staff.

"When services are operating at or beyond their capacity, safety is compromised and mistakes can, and almost certainly will be made, through no fault of the dedicated staff delivering the service."

Services such as home births and postnatal care are also suffering as staff working in the community are called in to cover gaps in hospitals. This comes after it was revealed that pregnant women could be given the right to demand a home birth as part of an NHS overhaul of maternity care.

Officials want to encourage more expectant mothers to have their babies outside hospital, either in small, midwife-led units or their own homes.

One proposal under consideration would see women offered vouchers to pay for their own private midwife for a home birth, if it could not be arranged on the NHS.

With the health service over £1 billion in the red, Mandy Luckman, medical negligence expert at law firm Irwin Mitchell has questioned if this is yet another attempt to save money when more should be being done to safeguard mothers and their children.

Expert Opinion
“These comments from the Royal College of Midwives need to be taken very seriously and once again raises the worrying prospect that critical areas of our NHS are both understaffed and under budget.

“Giving birth is always a worrying process, especially for first time mothers, and the last thing they need is to be concerned that the professionals they’ve put their trust in are struggling to cope with the demands and are therefore running the risk of avoidable mistakes being made.

“The most effective way for the NHS to reduce the cost of negligence is to cut out the number of errors it makes, and we are keen to work with the health service to try and help them achieve this. “We have a wealth of experience and evidence on accidents that regularly occur that can and should be avoided by the NHS, and we remain keen to share these insights with the NHSLA.

“Some 41% of the damages paid to patients who have suffered injuries as a result of medical mistakes were for obstetric claims, mainly paid to brain-damaged children to cover the support and adaptations they need to help them live as normal a life as possible.

“Learning from these mistakes and cutting out these errors in the first place would save the NHS a staggering amount of money in not only legal costs but the fair settlements it has to pay to those affected."
Mandy Luckman, Partner