Medical negligence

More than a quarter of mothers find NHS maternity care ‘substandard’

A recent survey we conducted, has found that more than a quarter (25.71%) of mothers say that their NHS maternity care was ‘substandard’ during their pregnancies.

19 March 2024

The results of the survey of more than 2,000 people painted a distressing image of the UK’s maternity system in the NHS with 28% feeling like ‘just a number’ during their pregnancy and birth. Expectant mothers can often feel extremely cautious and vulnerable during both pregnancy and childbirth. It’s during these times that trust is placed in the medical professionals caring for them.

Kim Burns, litigation midwife, has years of experience in the maternity sector. She is a member of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, registered midwife, health visitor and community nurse prescriber, as well as being a member of the Royal College of Midwives and Institute of Health Visitors.

She thinks the ‘substandard’ rating found in the survey boils down to the staff being unsupported themselves due to staffing issues: “Midwives love giving great care and continuity. They are often held back in this quest due to pulls on their time from the fact the profession is losing staff, through both retirement and early career leavers due to stress.”

Of those surveyed, a quarter of them said they didn’t feel confident in their healthcare providers during their births. More shockingly, more than one fifth (21% overall) of mums felt they ‘did not feel supported’ or ‘had a low level of support’ during their pregnancy.

Burns continues, “If women are concerned by their care, the first port of call should always be the midwives themselves. Often the midwife will be able to support. If the issue runs deeper, clients can reach out to their local maternity lead, National Maternity Voices and The Patient Advice and Liaison Services.”

Burns expressed that maternity care is a trusting partnership between mother and midwife and when this relationship breaks down or feels unsupportive, resolutions should always be sought.

In February 2024, The Care Quality Commission (CQC) released its latest national maternity study. The survey was sent out to women aged 16 and over who gave birth in February 2023 at one of 121 NHS hospital trusts in England and a total of 25,515 people responded to share their views. The CQC is the independent regulator of health and social care in England.

The CQC survey has shown that many respondents were more positive about their interactions with staff, with 81% of people saying they were ‘always’ given enough time to ask questions or discuss their pregnancy at antenatal check-ups – this is up from 77% in the 2022 report. Survey results also show a five-year downward trend for respondents saying they were ‘always’ given the information and explanations they needed whilst in hospital after the birth.

Laura Preston, principal lawyer in the medical negligence team, said, “With data such as this, it’s hard not to question the safety of giving birth in the UK. We know that the safety and quality of maternity services may vary depending on the location, and we also know what the harrowing affects can be with negligent maternity care.”

In the CQC’s maternity study, Kate Terroni, deputy chief executive at the company, said, “It’s very clear that far too many women and people using maternity services feel their care could have been better. Positive feedback about the availability of staff and being able to get help or speak to a midwife while in hospital has declined over time. This echoes what we’re hearing directly from front line staff – many of whom have shared their own concerns about the impact of staff shortages on their ability to provide care.”

For some women and others who used maternity services, the care they received fell short of expectations and the long-term trend shows that satisfaction levels have been falling over time on a year-on-year comparison, according to the CQC. For example, a quarter of people (25%) of people surveyed said they were left alone at some point during, or shortly after, the birth of their baby at a time when it worried them. The CQC said this is a higher proportion than those who said this in 2018 (23%) and 2019 (22%).

For mothers, the impact of maternity negligence can be devastating in a time when they are especially vulnerable both physically and mentally, and any negligence during this crucial period can have long-lasting consequences.

Emma Doughty, head of clinical negligence adds, “Inadequate prenatal care, failure to monitor and address complications during labour and delivery, as well as surgical errors are among some of the maternity medical negligence cases we see regularly.

“Maternity medical negligence can cause severe physical trauma including excessive bleeding, infections and in severe cases organ damage and maternal death. The psychological and emotional impact of maternity medical negligence can be devastating for mothers and their families. They often understandably feel betrayal, loss and trauma when preventable mistakes are made.”

Stressful birthing experiences brought on by poor maternity care can have a serious influence on postpartum mental health. Disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, depression and anxiety can affect many mothers.

If you believe you have experienced maternity negligence, we can assist you. For more information, visit here or contact us on 0330 107 6506

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