The BBC has recently published concerning statistics regarding potential lapses in maternity care between April 2015 and March 2017.
During this period over 276,000 incidents were recorded by concerned hospital staff, equating to one mistake for every five babies born. Most worrying, nearly a quarter of these incidents led to harm to the mother or baby, and in 288 incidents there was a fatality.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was quick to condemn these figures, stating that they were “shocking” and that “Mistakes in maternity care can lead to heart-breaking tragedies for mothers and babies”. Furthermore, childbirth charity NCT suggested that these figures show that maternity care is “in crisis”.
These potential lapses recorded include incidents where babies have been deprived of oxygen or life-threatening complications were overlooked. In total there were 8,134 instances of significant harm, including 479 instances of severe harm such as permanent disability, and 288 deaths.
Unions believe that staffing is an issue that may be contributing to these figures. For example, The Royal College of Midwives have stated that the NHS in England has a deficit of 3,500 midwives required to meet its needs. The Care Quality Commission has also highlighted staffing as a concern. In its review of services in 2017 it warned that it was concerned by the NHS’ staffing levels and ability to provide individual care during labour. The head of campaigns at childbirth charity NCT, Abigail Wood has stated that: “Maternity care is in crisis, staffing levels are dangerously low and midwives are being stretched to the limit”.
A lack of resources and staffing has also been a cause of concern for campaigners petitioning for a routine test for Group B Streptococcus (GBS). Sadly in the UK every day 2 babies develop the GBS infection and every week a baby dies from the infection. Furthermore, every week a baby who has recovered from GBS infection suffers a permanent disability and half of the survivors of GBS meningitis suffer blindness, deafness, or physical or learning disabilities.
Fortunately the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have recently updated their guidelines on GBS, following much campaigning from the charity Group B Strep Support. As a result the following recommendations have been implemented:
1. All pregnant women will be given an information leaflet about GBS;
2. All women in preterm labour will be offered intravenous antibiotics; and
3. Women who carried GBS in a previous pregnancy but did not pass the bacteria onto their baby will be offered the option of either intravenous antibiotics in future labours or Enriched Culture Medium (ECM) testing late in pregnancy with the further option of antibiotics if the testing proves positive.
It is hoped that the above measures will help to reduce infant fatality and disability as a result of GBS infection.
Group B Strep Support has recently produced a leaflet in conjunction with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, ensuring that women have expert information available to help them make an informed decision on how to minimise risks to their baby. In response to the leaflet Jeremy Hunt has said: “This programme giving parents clear information on the signs of group B Strep infection and guidance on when to seek medical advice is another welcome and important step”.
Unfortunately whilst a step in the right direction, the guidelines don’t go far enough to reduce GBS infection. Recent studies have shown that screening-based detection is far more effective than risk-based detection of GBS, and therefore the campaign to screen all expecting mothers for GBS is ongoing.
If you and your baby have experienced medical errors during your pregnancy, labour or shortly after your baby’s birth which may have resulted in serious injuries and you would like to discuss this with no obligation, then please contact Elizabeth Smith at Wolferstans, Solicitors on 01752 292309 or firstname.lastname@example.org