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Lawyer calls for investigation into differences in maternal care across UK

A new report suggests that maternity units are providing 'unexplained' differing care for mothers and babies across Britain

9 November 2017

The recently published National Maternity and Perinatal Audit (NMPA) shows that the vast majority of women in Britain have a safe birth, however, the number of babies requiring additional support and mothers experiencing adverse outcomes such as bleeding and severe tears differ across services.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has called for "unwarranted or unexplained" differences to be investigated.

The data was collected from 149 of 155 NHS trusts and boards in England, Wales and Scotland. It covered approximately 92% of births between April 2015 and March 2016; reviewing 696,738 births in total.

The audit showed that 3.5% of women sustained third or fourth degree perineal tears during vaginal births. However, this figure ranged from 0.6% to 6.5% across maternity services.

While hospitals in Britain reported that 0.2% of babies in Britain required additional support in the minutes after they were born, some recorded figures as low as 0.3% and others as high as 3.5%. In England and Wales, 2.7% of women giving birth experienced a major haemorrhage.

This figure ranged from 1.1% to 5.6% of women across services in the two countries.

Sanja Strkljevic from the medical negligence team at law firm Leigh Day has joined the calls for closer inspection of the figures.

“It is clear that if the wide differences in the care that women and babies receive are dependent on the hospital in which they are treated, then the reasons need to be unearthed and tackled.

“Acting on this report is essential for patient safety in the future.”

Professor Lesley Regan, president of the RCOG, said:

"While the UK is a safe place for women giving birth, this report shows variation in care and outcomes for women and babies in maternity services in Britain.

"Some variation is expected and can drive new improvements, but unwarranted or unexplained variation requires investigation.

"We urge all maternity units to examine their own results and those of their neighbours both to identify role models and to drive quality improvement locally.”

The NMPA was commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership on behalf of NHS England, the Welsh government and the Health Department of the Scottish government. It is a collaboration between RCOG, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the LSHTM.

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