The maternity scandal

The maternity scandal

Kamaljit Uppal had begged that her baby be delivered by caesarean, said Phoebe Southworth and Patrick Sawer in The Daily Telegraph. Staff at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust had known for months that the child was in a dangerous breech position. Even so, her pleas were ignored. More than seven hours after her baby’s foot had begun to show, the mother-of-three was finally rushed for a C-section, but the infant, Manpreet, died soon after, on 17 April 2003. “Her story is just one of the harrowing cases which emerged during the biggest review of maternity cases in NHS history.” A panel led by Donna Ockenden, a former senior midwife, has so far reviewed 250 out of 1,862 cases of stillbirth, maternal death and serious injury at the Shropshire trust from 2000 to 2018. The interim report highlights shocking failures. Women were left screaming in pain for hours. Staff repeatedly failed to notice serious conditions. Thirteen mothers and at least 42 babies died; hundreds more were injured.

The Ockenden report shows how destructive the cult of “natural birth” has become, said Barbara Ellen in The Observer. In Shrewsbury – but by no means only there – midwives came to believe that avoiding caesareans was the essence of good maternity care, when in fact they would have avoided death and injury in many cases. Women were told they were “lazy” for wanting a C-section. Midwives seemed to see doctors as rivals rather than colleagues. The trust had “a blanket ban, against official guidance, on elective caesareans”, said Janice Turner in The Times. Even high-risk mothers were denied them. The trust was proud of having England’s lowest caesarean rate – around 17% compared to the average of 26%. But “it would be unjust to blame the Shropshire tragedies entirely on the natural birth movement”, which has the reasonable aim of ensuring that during childbirth women aren’t routinely subjected to invasive procedures. In Shrewsbury, a strong aversion to caesareans was partly to blame – but so too were “ineptitude, complacency and indifference”.

Indeed, said The Guardian: the Ockenden report highlighted a series of shortcomings. Midwives failed to monitor foetal heart rates properly. Cases that became complex were not reliably escalated. Forceps were used with “excessive force”. Mothers were blamed when things went wrong, and bereaved families were treated unkindly. It wasn’t just midwives who were to blame. Doctors provided poor oversight. Management rejected criticism; bereaved parents such as Rhiannon Davies, whose daughter Kate died following a series of mistakes in 2009, have had to push for years for answers. This is only the latest NHS maternity scandal, said The Times. A report on Morecambe Bay NHS Trust in 2015 found similar lethal failings; another review is under way in East Kent. Clearly, the culture of the NHS must be changed, so that “no more families suffer such avoidable loss”.

 

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