The midwifery crisis


For many midwives working on the front line, the latest figures revealing that maternity wards in England were forced to close 382 times in 2016 will come as no surprise. During the 33 years that I was a midwife, sadly, I also saw many maternity units close and it’s extremely worrying to see that it’s still happening. A closed unit is a very busy unit and for both the pregnant women in the ward and the nurses, it can be an extremely stressful time. Once a ward is closed, many pregnant women can be pulled from pillar to post and forced to go to alternative hospitals, which can cause added stress at a time that is already quite daunting for them. This uncertainty around where mothers will be able to give birth is leaving some in fear that they could be caught out, and won’t have the time to reach the nearest ward that is open.

Women need to know they are in safe hands when they are giving birth. But to arrive at their maternity unit to find it is too busy and they have to be turned away disrupts the whole ethos of antenatal care. The point of antenatal care is to provide woman with the knowledge and ability to be calm and in control when their labour starts – yet for some, the calm birth they have been promised is not mirrored in the services provided when a unit is closed or is short of staff. In the serious cases we’ve seen at Fletchers Solicitors, women have been left in labour for lengthy periods of time without a midwife with them, or the midwife has been expected to care for two women at the same time. There have also been instances where women have had to wait to be induced as staff were not available to start the procedure.

But perhaps the most concerning consequence of the staff shortages has been delays in operations taking place. We recently handled a case where a client was left waiting for a tear to be repaired for three and a half hours following a traumatic birth. As a result, she suffered excessive blood loss and needed an urgent blood transfusion. From these figures, it’s clear that our maternity services are suffering a severe staffing crisis. We are now at a crucial point where staffing and capacity issues must be addressed as a matter of urgency to improve the safety of maternity services. We must work to prevent more women from being turned away from the hospital where they had planned to give birth. It’s up to the Government to start investing in the future of our NHS to alleviate the pressures on already overworked staff, otherwise resources are only going to become more stretched and unsustainable.

Carline Ashton, in-house midwife at Fletchers Solicitor



2 Replies to “The midwifery crisis”

  1. When I was a midwife, I was lucky enough to work in a unit where closure was very rare. However, this decision is not taken lightly by any trust. They appreciate that pregnant women need the certainty of knowing where they will deliver their baby and of building up a relationship with those that will be caring for them. This has to be balanced against the safety of those women already in labour.
    “The number of deliveries has increased significantly over the years. In 2015 there were 3,000 more deliveries than in 2014. That was 50,000 more than 2005 and 100,000 more than 2001. Trusts cannot always predict how many women will be in labour at any one time – they can only react to ensure the safety of all women. If this means closing a unit, that is what they will do if there are no other options. They will, however, ensure that another unit as close as possible can assist.
    Patricia Wakeford, dual-qualified solicitor and midwife and clinical negligence specialist at BL Claims Solicitors

  2. With NHS maternity services increasingly being in the press due to ward closures and the rising number of birth injuries, it is clear that current staffing levels and resources are struggling to meet the rising demand for care from expectant mothers.

    With pressure mounting on these services, medical errors and birth injures are unfortunately increasing. At Fletchers Solicitors we are seeing a substantial surge in obstetric claims being made against the NHS. In some of the cases that we have investigated, women have been left in labour for lengthy periods of time without midwives monitoring them, or there have been delays in caesarean sections taking place, leading to traumatic births.

    It is clear that these errors cannot continue and lessons need to be learnt from these cases in order to reduce the number of lives that are sadly either lost or seriously affected as a result.

    The findings from the Morecambe Bay Investigation published in 2015, which found that some midwives were giving misleading advice to patients which led to the deaths of 11 babies and one mother, serves as a stark warning that serious improvements need to be made. As a result of the Morecambe Bay findings some midwives have stopped advising mothers to favour natural births or births without medical intervention. This is a positive step and will help to ensure that complications during labour are acted upon quickly. It will therefore hopefully contribute to safer deliveries and fewer failures of care.

    There remains a long way to go, and more action and investment is still required from the government to ensure that resources can cope with the rising level of pressure that the NHS is currently under. With this in mind, we must ensure that patient safety remains the key focus of all NHS services.

    Maria Repanos, senior solicitor at Fletchers Solicitors

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