Birth Trauma Inquiry Calls for Overhaul of Maternity Services

Birth Trauma Inquiry Calls for Overhaul of Maternity Services
BSC, LLB (Hons) & LPC Sophia Azam
Legally reviewed by: BSC, LLB (Hons) & LPC Sophia Azam Updated: In: Medical Negligence

Listening to Mums: Ending the Postcode Lottery on Perinatal Care

On 9 January 2024, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) launched an inquiry into traumatic childbirths within the UK Parliament, aiming to reduce the rate of birth trauma. The inquiry concluded on 13 May 2024, with APPG publishing their inquiry report, exposing the stark reality of inconsistent maternity and postnatal care across the nation.

Tory MP Theo Clarke, who chaired the inquiry, highlights the issue of a “postcode lottery” within maternity care, bringing to light the disparities in support offered to expectant mothers depending on their geographical location.

The discrepancies in maternity care have driven APPG’s call for an overhaul of the UK’s maternity services, backed by the distressing accounts of over 1,300 women who suffered from negligence during childbirth. Many of these women voiced that medical staff did not listen to them when they felt something was wrong, mocked or shouted at them, and denied them basic needs such as pain relief. As a result, the report calls for an urgent systemic shift, towards a maternity system where high-quality care is the norm and not the exception.

With an estimated 30,000 women in the UK experiencing negative birth experiences annually, and one in twenty developing post-traumatic stress disorder, the call for change is urgent. The inquiry’s findings compel UK Parliament to address the need for a new and singular approach to maternal healthcare, prioritising the well-being and dignity of every mother and child.

AWH Solicitors has been actively contributing towards the inquiry. In February 2024, our medical negligence solicitors made an official submission of support into the inquiry into the lasting effects of birth trauma.

You can read further about our maternity cases here.

Breaking the Taboo on Birth Trauma

The birth of a child should be one of the most special occasions in the life of a parent. However, when things go wrong during pregnancy or childbirth, what should be an exciting new chapter can quickly turn into the worst time in someone’s life, causing lifelong physical or psychological consequences that people often avoid discussing.

The Birth Trauma Inquiry aims to break this taboo by sharing the stories of mothers and fathers publicly “and start a public discussion on the realities of giving birth and how we can practically improve maternity services.”

The inquiry shares parents accounts of stillbirth, premature babies and babies with cerebral palsy caused by oxygen deprivation. In many of the reported cases, the NHS is concerningly covering up these mistakes and failures before and during labour.

Further accounts report of women who experienced birth injuries resulting in chronic pain and bowel incontinence. As a result, many of these women had no choice but to stop working, resulting in a destroyed sense of self- worth.

The inquiry particularly highlights that too-often women from marginalised groups appeared to experience particularly poor care. The report shares their stories of direct and indirect racism.

To tackle the inequalities in maternity care, especially amongst ethnic minorities, APPG has introduced a new National Improvement Strategy, to increase the base standard of maternity services.

Read further about racial bias in NHS maternity.

Introducing a Base Standard in Maternity Services

The Birth Trauma Inquiry’s key conclusion is for an urgent need to introduce a base standard in maternity services across the UK.  The APPG calls for the UK Government to publish a National Maternity Improvement Strategy, led by a new Maternity Commissioner who will report to the Prime Minister. This strategy will replace the several current strategy documents, unifying them into one comprehensive strategy, that will continuously be “brought up to date.”

National Maternity Improvement Strategy

The National Maternity Improvement Strategy outlines the following as means to reduce birth trauma in the UK by carrying out the following:

  1. 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.
  2. Provide universal access to specialist maternal mental health services across the UK to end the postcode lottery.
  3. Offer a separate 6-week check post-delivery with a GP for all mothers which includes separate questions for the mother’s physical and mental health to the baby.
  4. Roll out and implement, underpinned by sufficient training, the OASI (obstetric and anal sphincter injury) care bundle to all hospital trusts to reduce risk of injuries in childbirth.
  5. Oversee the national rollout of standardised post birth services, such as Birth Reflections, to give all mothers a safe space to speak about their experiences in childbirth.
  6. Ensure better education for women on birth choices. All NHS Trusts should offer antenatal classes. Risks should be discussed during both antenatal classes and at the 34-week antenatal check with a midwife to ensure informed consent.
  7. Respect mothers’ choices about giving birth and access to pain relief and keep mothers together with their baby as much as possible.
  8. Provide support for fathers and ensure nominated birth partner is continuously informed and updated during labour and post-delivery.
  9. Provide better continuity of care and digitise mother’s health records to improve communication between primary and secondary health care pathways. This should include the integration of different IT systems to ensure notes are always shared.
  10. Extend the time limit for medical negligence litigation relating to childbirth from three years to five years.
  11. Commit to tackling inequalities in maternity care among ethnic minorities, particularly Black and Asian women. To address this NHS England should provide funding to each NHS Trust to maintain a pool of appropriately trained interpreters with expertise in maternity and to train NHS staff to work with interpreters.
  12. NIHR to commission research on the economic impact of birth trauma and injuries, including factors such as women delaying returning to work.

Improving the Quality and Consistency of Care for Mothers and Babies

The Birth Trauma Inquiry serves as a crucial catalyst for change within maternity care. While the prospect of appointing a maternity commissioner remains under consideration, the government has already taken strides towards addressing key issues highlighted in the report.

Health Secretary Ms Atkins, in response to the report stated that she was grateful to the women who came forward to share their experiences.

“I am determined to improve the quality and consistency of care for women throughout pregnancy, birth and the critical months that follow, and I fully support work to develop a comprehensive national strategy to improve our maternity services,” she said.

As we navigate the path towards reform, it is vital for the NHS to address those affected by birth trauma and uphold a commitment to improving the quality and consistency of care for all mothers and babies.

AWH Solicitors Advocating for Maternity Safety in the NHS

AWH Solicitors has been writing articles covering the topic of maternity safety in the NHS.

Below you can read further about other relevant topics:

What to Do if You or a Loved One Has Suffered from Racial Bias in NHS Maternity Care

For those who are unfortunate to suffer injury and loss due to any aspect of maternity care, pursuing a claim for maternity negligence is a way of obtaining compensation and can also promote change within the NHS to ensure these failings don’t happen again. That is why it remains so important for anyone who is unhappy with how they are treated in the NHS to come forward and make a claim, regardless of race or background.

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