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Inquiry urges UK maternity and postnatal care overhaul after poor standards 'tolerated as normal'


An overhaul of the UK's maternity and postnatal care has been called for after an inquiry into traumatic childbirths found poor standards are "all-too-frequently tolerated as normal." 

The Birth Trauma Inquiry, chaired by Tory MP, Theo Clarke, heard harrowing evidence from more than 1,300 women, some of whom said they were left in blood-soaked sheets while others claimed their children had suffered life-changing injuries due to medical negligence.

Women complained they were not listened to when they felt something was wrong, were mocked or shouted at and denied basic needs such as pain relief. 

A key recommendation in the inquiry report is the appointment of a new maternity commissioner who would ensure safe levels of staffing and report directly to the prime minister.

It is estimated that in the UK alone, 30,000 women a year have suffered negative experiences during the delivery of their babies. One-in-20 develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The inquiry's authors call for a maternity system "where poor care is the exception rather than the rule." 

Parents gave the inquiry accounts of stillbirth, premature babies and babies with cerebral palsy caused by oxygen deprivation and, in many cases, trauma caused by mistakes and failures, often covered up, before and during labour. 

Other devastating accounts came from women who experienced birth injuries, causing a chronic pain and bowel incontinence, stopping many of them working and "destroying their sense of self-worth." 

The inquiry also highlighted that woman from marginalised groups, particularly ethnic minorities, appeared to experience particularly poor care, with some reporting direct and indirect racism. 

Liberal Democrat MP, Helen Morgan, who was among the MPs responsible for the inquiry, said it was "nothing short of a national tragedy" that so many women had experienced traumatic births. 

Inquiry chair, Theo Clarke, who said she hoped the government would implement all the recommendations made by the report, told the BBC there was "a postcode lottery" for maternity care in this country.

She said: "I don’t think is acceptable that, depending on where you live, you will literally be offered a different level of care in terms of how you’re given support during childbirth and afterwards.”

Describing her own personal experience of giving birth, she said: “I remember pressing the emergency button after I’d come out of surgery and a lady came in and said she couldn’t help me, said it wasn’t her baby, wasn’t her problem and walked out and left me there, so we need to make sure there are safe levels of staffing.”

In the report, one mother, Helenwas described as still suffering from mental and physical pain, years after the birth of her son, Julian who was born with a hypoxic brain injury because of proven medical negligence during his birth.

She told the inquiry: "My life will never be as it should be. I never returned to work, I live a very secluded life, as friends and family shun you when you have a disabled child that they might not understand or are scared of."

The report called for a "base standard in maternity services" across the UK and an end to the postcode lottery of perinatal care. It said mothers should be given "universal access to specialist maternal mental health services across the UK."

It also urged the government to outline how it would "recruit, train and retain more midwives, obstetricians and anaesthetists to ensure safe levels of staffing in maternity services and provide mandatory training on trauma-informed care."

In the report, Ms Clarke and her co-chair Labour MP, Rosie Duffield, said the inquiry wanted to start a public discussion "on the realities of giving birth and how we can practically improve maternity services" as well as share the stories and experiences of both mothers and fathers. 

Another key suggestion was to "provide support for fathers and ensure a nominated birth partner is continuously informed and updated during labour and post-delivery."

The report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Birth Trauma put forward 12 recommendations, including recruiting, training, and retaining more midwives, obstetricians and anaesthetists to ensure safe levels of staffing and respecting mothers' choices around giving birth and access to pain relief. 

Other recommendations included a commitment to tackling inequalities in maternity care for ethnic minorities, particularly black and Asian women, and universal access to specialist maternal mental health services to end the postcode lottery across the UK.

NHS England chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said the experiences outlined in the report "are simply not good enough." 

She added: "We know there is more that can be done to prevent and improve support for birth trauma, which is why we are committed to working with the Department for Health and Social Care on a cross-government strategy to build on the NHS three-year delivery plan for maternity and neonatal services, so that we can continue to make care safer and more personalised for women and babies.”