Birth Injuries to Mothers

Going into labour can be an exciting time for expectant mothers and their families. However, it can also be emotive and worrisome. With the number of births in 2010 reaching records of 723,165 live births, a rise of 2.4 per cent from 2009, it is alarming to hear that in England and Wales there is a significant shortage of midwives.

 A recent investigation by the television programme, Panorama revealed that of the 171 maternity units across the UK (88% of which replied to their enquiries) maternity unit’s temporarily closed their doors to new admissions 1055 times in 2010 resulting in at least 927 women being turned away or being transferred to other units. This was an increase of 32% on the figures from 2009. Over 50% closures were reported as being due to staffing shortages or otherwise units being at capacity.
 
The investigation also revealed that there was a severe shortage of Midwives in the UK, with vacancies in some London NHS Trusts being as high as 20%, with an average vacancy rate of 5% in England. The Royal College of Midwives estimates that at least an extra 4700 midwives needed to be employed across England and Wales to provide a safe level of care to pregnant women.
 
It seems obvious to the layman that with such significant staff shortages, the care that midwives are able to provide women in labour will be restricted. The Royal College of Midwives advises that each woman in advanced labour should have one to one care from a midwife through to delivery. However, it is apparent that this is not the case, and more often than not, it is a rarity for mothers in advanced labour to receive this recommended level of care.
 
An independent investigation was launched in 2010 to investigate the number of maternal deaths in London NHS Trusts in the first half of 2010 as they exceeded the total number of maternal deaths in 2009. The body concluded that 17 out of the 42 deaths could have been avoided if adequate care had been provided to the women in labour. The Trust commented that they were working hard to rectify shortcomings.
 
With this in mind, it is no wonder that the number of Clinical Negligence Claims are on the increase, not only in terms of injury to the child, but more strikingly, injury to mothers in labour.

There are numerous complications that can occur in labour, which include:

1)      Perineal Tears – The Perinea is the area between the anus and the vagina. Injury can occur during the birth especially if the baby's head is very large, or if the baby is in breach position. Perineal tears differ in degrees of severity, and need to be dealt with quickly and effectively in order to prevent long-lasting impacts. First degree tears can often be repaired by suturing. Third or fourth degree tears can extend to the anal sphincter, and need to be dealt with by specialist treatment. However, perineal tears may occur as a natural consequence of childbirth, and not all tears (or treatment for them) will be negligent.

2)      Episiotomy is an incision made through the perineum to enlarge the vagina and assist childbirth. Whilst this is a common procedure, which many women require during child birth, complications can arise when the episiotomy is sutured incorrectly. This can result in bleeding, life-threatening infections, or rectal problems.

3)      Caesarean (‘C-Section’) - Again, many women have caesarean sections for example if the baby in is the breach position or is in distress. However, there has been an increase in clinical negligence claims where mothers have required a C-Section as a result of negligent treatment which otherwise would have enabled them to have a vaginal birth. In addition negligence claims can be brought where injury has been caused to the mother and child as a result of the procedure being carried out negligently.

4)      Retained Products of Conception - Mothers, who have been unfortunate enough to suffer a miscarriage, could be at risk of retaining products of conception. After miscarrying, the placenta fails and the uterus contracts to expel the unwanted tissues, causing bleeding and pain. Sometimes, some tissues can stay inside the uterus causing heavy bleeding and the risk of infection.

5)      Psychiatric Injury - Some mother can sustain psychiatric injures as a result of a traumatic birth.

If you have suffered from a birth injury, or you are concerned with the level of care that you or a loved one has received, then contact Clare Langford who will help you further.

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