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Decision to drop caesarean births limit following Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals maternity scandal is welcome

The NHS has announced that there will no longer be targets to limit the number of caesarean births in England. Previously NHS maternity units were encouraged to limit the number of caesarean section births to around 20 per cent. 

It will be shocking to many people who do not work in the medical sector that such targets had even been set. Maternity staff have now been told to treat cases on a individual basis and allow women to opt for a planned caesarean section, even if it is not for medical reasons.

Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals maternity safety scandal

This announcement has been made following the ongoing investigation into poor maternity care at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust. The investigation found that the Trust was too focused on hitting the target for limiting caesarean sections. Around 1,900 maternity incidents are being investigated.

The full report into the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust maternity scandal, known as the Ockenden report is due to be published next month. 

BBC’s Panorama has investigated the scandal and the programme “BBC Panorama – Maternity Scandal: Fighting for the Truth” will air on BBC one at 9pm on 23 February 2022. 

Irwin Mitchell, which is supporting families affected by maternity issues at the Trust, has contributed to the BBC's investigation.

Caesarean sections

The NHS had previously encouraged all Trusts to promote natural births over caesarean sections. A “natural birth” is when the baby is delivered vaginally during active labour. A caesarean section or C-section as it is commonly known, is when the baby is delivered through a surgical cut in the mother’s abdomen.

There are various reasons why a caesarean section may be undertaken:

  • The mother may request this as her mode of delivery – this is known as an elective Caesarean section;
  • This may be required for medical reasons – this is known as a planned Caesarean section; or
  • It may be required due to complications in labour – this is known as an emergency Caesarean section.

More than 25 per cent of babies are now born via caesarean section due to one of the reasons above, that is five per cent more than the previous targets set by the NHS for maternity units.

Welcome change 

Dr Jo Mountfield, the Vice-President of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has welcomed the end to “target-drive clinical decision making for caesarean births” and advised that people giving birth should feel supported and their choices should be respected.

Despite this recent change and the move away from target drive performances in maternity units, the Health and Social Care Committee found that in 2021, 1,000 more babies would have survived if England had safer maternity units. 

While the committee acknowledges that there have been improvements, it found that newborn death rates in England remained too high. The Government has recently announced £2 million is being invested into research to spot early signs of distress.

Supporting families affected by maternity care

As a medical negligence solicitor, I have supported a number of families through the unimaginable grief of losing a child during or shortly after birth. 

The trauma of losing a child in this way is often compounded by hospital meetings, trust investigations and a coroner’s inquest in an attempt to get answers for the family. It's devastating for any family to lose a child, but this is often made even more difficult when it's found that the death could have been prevented if better care had been provided.

Irwin Mitchell represents hundreds of families nationally who have been affected by issues in maternity care.

The law firm is campaigning to improve maternity services across the country and contributed to the Health Committee’s Maternity Safety Call for Evidence.

Find out more about our expertise in supporting families affected by baby loss or birth injury at our dedicated medical negligence section

The NHS in England will no longer limit the number of Caesarean sections it performs, under plans to improve care for mothers and babies.

Maternity units were previously encouraged to promote natural births and keep the Caesarean rate to about 20%.

It comes after one NHS trust was criticised for poor maternity care.”