Babies are dying and pregnant women being put at risk because NHS hospitals cannot afford to send them for specialist care, doctors have warned.
In a letter seen by the Health Service Journal, seven consultants claim ‘avoidable harm’ is being caused and cite a number of cases in which babies have died, been left disabled or abortions botched as a result.
They blame a flawed funding system which means local hospitals have to pay experts’ bills out of their own general maternity budgets, rather than a separate NHS England pot set aside for specialised care.
Cases that are complicated or have a risk of complications should be sent to specialist centres. But the costs often exceed the ‘maternity tariff’ for each patient which is paid to hospitals to cover care, meaning some are avoiding expensive referrals as they struggle to balance the books.
According to a report in The Times, a pregnant woman was told to return to hospital in a few weeks rather than see a specialist after a scan failed to get a clear picture of the foetus. A consultant later diagnosed an abnormal build-up of fluid, but by then her baby had died. A post-mortem found the death would have been preventable if the condition had been detected earlier.
“Sadly this is just one example of a baby dying unnecessarily. We have identified multiple cases where women and babies have been subject to avoidable harm as a direct result of these commissioning changes,” the letter says.
The consultants, from specialist units in London, wrote the letter last summer to the city’s strategic clinical network. In it they call on NHS England to urgently review funding arrangements.
A spokesman for NHS England said: “Clinicians and their teams should always seek to ensure that women get the best and most appropriate care for them, with good governance of units and collaborative commissioning across networks being central to achieving this.
“Clinicians will shortly have the opportunity to suggest improvements to the tariff system for 2017-18 through the annual consultation run by NHS Improvement and NHS England.”