A leaked internal report from the NHS revealed the deaths of at least 42 babies and three mothers at Shrewsbury and Telford hospital between 1979 and 2017. In addition, more than 50 children also suffered permanent brain damage after being deprived of oxygen during birth. The investigation also identified 47 other cases of substandard care.
The NHS does an amazing job for the vast majority of maternity patients, but our own experience of care for our first child was so bad we decided to have our second child born abroad. Our daughter was turned after being found to be in transverse lie at 38 weeks and my wife was then told to go home. She ended up having to go back into hospital two days later when she moved again.
We were never told anything about the potential risks of such a procedure which can include a prolapse of the umbilical cord and the need for an emergency c-section.
While the birth itself went smoothly, the after-care was shocking. There was little help during the first night when the baby was crying and my wife had dropped the call cord – she was exhausted after being in hospital for 10 days.
Staff were so deep in paperwork that at one point when I came to visit, all of the nurses in the post-natal unit were at the nursing station and not one was dealing with patients.
We received no advice about bottle feeding whatsoever (despite the fact that our child wasn’t feeding properly), before being sent home at 9am on a Sunday morning when almost every pharmacy was closed. We were told to combination feed but that was about it. We resorted to bottle feeding entirely within a week or two of coming home.
Another friend had been instructed to stay in hospital after her baby had been turned. The consultant told her she had to stay until the baby was born and she was given a private room. Then at 2am the next morning, the nurse turned the lights on when she was asleep and ordered her to go home. When she came back in to be induced, she waited hours for an epidural as the only anaesthetist was busy during surgery. A lack of maternity bed space remains an issue. Research by Labour revealed 287 occasions when maternity units were closed to new mothers in 2017.
The government has promised to train 3,000 more midwives but given that they have decided to remove bursaries from students wanting to enter the field, that target will be hard to reach. In the meantime, we will need to continue to recruit from Europe and elsewhere. Unfortunately, Brexit has already led to a huge drop in the numbers of midwives coming from the EU. As Gill Walton, the general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives wrote last year: “We used to attract European midwives and nurses; we now repel them. Make no mistake about it. Brexit poses an unprecedented threat to maternity care in our country.”
Maternity care rarely gets many headlines during an election but the Shrewsbury and Telford scandal is a wake-up call that it is time for action and to stop using the usual scapegoats of health tourism or the level of immigration to swot away complaints about the NHS.
The next government should be focused on making maternity care safer. That way, more parents like us will not feel they have to go abroad to have their baby delivered safely.
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