Despite several attempts to upgrade maternity care, the figures released are slightly worse and the CQC says its disappointed with the pace of improvement.
Laura Ellis lost her newborn son.
Laura checked the CQC rating of her local hospital, Frimley Park, when she was pregnant and saw that maternity services were good but did not realise that the unit had been told to improve on its safety.
After an easy pregnancy, she went into labour and got to the birth centre at 16:40. It was however found that the baby was breech (legs or bottom are down instead of head in the womb). Laura says there was panic and no one seemed to know what they should do.
The baby’s legs and chest were delivered just after 18:00 and although a midwife said she could feel a heartbeat; a senior midwife couldn’t hear anything when she tried to listen for it with a stethoscope a few minutes later.
Laura says she was told that the stethoscope was broken and when her son, Theo, was fully delivered at 18:13, his heart had stopped beating.
The medical staff tried to resuscitate Theo and even at one stage, the oxygen canister used ran out before it was replaced. Doctors and midwives stopped resuscitation after 39 minutes as Laura and her husband came to the realization that they had lost their baby.
Laura describes Theo as “the most perfect baby, just absolutely beautiful”.
“It was just so hard. So hard to deal with. So hard to leave as well. How would you leave your baby in the hospital when you should be taking them home?”
Frimley Park NHS Foundation Trust said it was extremely sorry for what happened adding that they had made a number of changes since Theo died which included an emergency response if a baby is unexpectedly breech during advanced labour.
Lack of progress
Analysis by the BBC on the most recent CQC safety ratings, published in September 2022, for 137 maternity units in England found the following:
- Nine were given the lowest possible rating of inadequate for safety, meaning urgent action is required
- 66 required improvement to reduce risk to mothers and babies, and ensure legal requirements on safety are met
- 62 had a good rating for safety
- None were given the top rating of outstanding that would mean a comprehensive safety system is in place
Due to the change in the CQC’s approach to inspections, it is difficult to give a direct comparison between the current ratings and older ones. It had adopted a risk-based approach during the pandemic looking at units where it was more concerned about.
In December 2016, 50% of maternity and gynaecology units had good safety ratings, but this has dropped to 45% now.
According to Victoria Vallance, the CQC’s director of secondary care, inspectors often find the same issues in the maternity services they visit, for example, not managing risk when women are getting worse.
“We are worried. We are concerned,” she said.
“We have not seen the pace of improvement consistently, nationally, that we would hope and expect to see across maternity services.”
The CQC only inspects in England.
Northern Ireland’s Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority has not inspected care in maternity units yet – but will in autumn 2023.
NHS Wales on the other hand says it has recognised the need for improvement in maternity services.
The Scottish government also says it is transforming maternity services with its Best Start programme.
It is quite unfortunate when a period of pregnancy that should end in joy ends in trauma and emotional pain due to the loss of the baby. It is even more painful when the loss is as a result of clinical negligence.
At our firm, we help families who are in this condition to make medical negligence claims and seek justice for the wrong done to them. Our medical negligence solicitors are some of the best in this area of law and have successfully undertaken claims as these for clients in the past and won them appropriate compensation awards.
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