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Crisis in maternity care causes trauma and deaths

The Tories have refused to implement changes to maternity care after decades of cuts and neglect. Yuri Prasad looks at a new report that details women’s horrific experiences while giving birth
Issue 2905
THE MARCH With Midwives demonstration in London 2021 fighting for better maternity care

The March With Midwives demonstration in London 2021 fighting for better maternity care (Picture: Guy Smallman)

The shocking state of maternity services in Britain was highlighted again this week after an inquiry published a report which included “harrowing” stories from parents. MPs from the all-party Birth Trauma Inquiry heard evidence from more than 1,300 women.

Some described being left in blood-soaked sheets, while another said their children had suffered life-changing injuries due to medical mistakes and negligence. One woman carrying twins went into premature labour at 19 weeks. She was told by a consultant to “stop stressing” after she lost her first baby.

Another, who was dismissed as an “anxious mother”, later lost her baby from complications she had warned about.  Research included in the report shows that between 4 and 5 percent of women develop post-traumatic stress disorder after giving birth. 

That’s equivalent to approximately 25,000-30,000 women every year in Britain. The right wing press used these stories as yet another excuse to rubbish the NHS and call for “drastic changes” to the system. For them, its uncaring and even callous staff that are to blame for maternal trauma.

But we already know the real reason for the crisis in maternity care—too few highly qualified staff on the wards and a management culture of blame and cover-ups. The 2022 Ockenden Report into dangerous maternity care in Shrewsbury and Telford made exactly this point. 

But the Tories chose to ignore its findings. Senior midwife Donna Ockenden and her team pulled no punches when they described a hospital trust as disastrous after nearly 20 years of cuts, neglect and demoralisation.

As one worker told her inquiry, “This wasn’t just a maternity unit in chaos and under pressure, this was a whole organisation where it was difficult to find an area which was not under pressure.”

Ockenden noted that as the litany of mistakes in Shropshire became clear, senior leadership even tried to deflect criticism by blaming mothers for their babies’ deaths. Overstretched, demoralised and traumatised maternity workers simply cannot give women the care they need. 

And, as a result, some become detached and are broken by the job. Now, following the publication of the all-party report, Tory health minister Maria Caulfield says she wants to “apologise” for past errors. But all previous Tory promises to improve maternity care have amounted to nothing.

There is currently a shortfall of around 2,500 full-time midwives in England. And, according to the midwives’ RCM union, that shortfall has existed for over a decade.


Tories knew all about blood dangers 

New evidence in the contaminated blood scandal has emerged just as a long-running public inquiry prepared to report its findings. The BBC Panorama programme shows that the British embassy in the United States warned the government about the risk of Aids from contaminated blood in the early 1980s.

An embassy official wrote a five-page memo to a senior figure at the Department of Health after meeting a member of the US Aids taskforce. That blows a hole in former Tory ministers’ defence against charges that they knowingly bought cheap but potentially deadly blood products.

Lord Kenneth Clarke is among many that insisted that the transmission of the Aids virus was not yet fully understood. The former health minister under Margaret Thatcher said it was right in 1983 to say there was “no conclusive proof” that Aids could be transmitted by blood products.

But documents already shown to the inquiry confirm senior health officials thought it likely HIV could be carried in blood. The new evidence adds to the case against ministers, some senior health officials and leading doctors. The inquiry report is due to be published next week.


Government rejects many disability benefits

The government is rejecting more than 40 percent of applications for disability benefits from people with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and arthritis. And it rejects one in four applications from amputees.

That’s the finding of analysis of personal independence payment (Pip) data for England and Wales by the Observer newspaper. It shows that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) turned down thousands of applicants with illnesses such as cancer and emphysema between August 2023 and January 2024.

“These statistics show that Pip is not an easy benefit to get, contrary to the current government rhetoric, which says that too many people claim benefits and that they are undeserving,” said Rensa Gaunt of disabled people’s group Inclusion London.

“The high rates of Pip decisions overturned at tribunal with no additional information needed show that many disabled people are turned down for benefits they are eligible for.” Tribunals consistently uphold about 70 percent of Pip appeals but many people do not know they can appeal or how to do so.

The DWP has suggested replacing Pip cash payments with a catalogue or a shop to purchase specific items. It also asks people to choose whether it is more important that disabled people have money for food or money for medication.  Disabled People Against Cuts and other groups have declared they will fight the new plans.

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