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Birth injury » NHS maternity statistics

The NHS maternity statistics for the period 2005-06 have given professionals insight into why birth injury compensation claims continue to rise in the UK.

A clear reduction in the amount of normal births and an increase in troublesome births, where potentially dangerous operations such as caesareans are performed and anaesthetics are administered, begins to explain why there has been a surge in the employment of personal injury solicitors to claims for birth injury compensation.

Specifically, the induction of labour, use of epidurals and instrumental births, using forceps or ventouse, has increased since 2004-05. For example, instrumental births which have been known to cause birth injuries in the past have increased from 10.7% to 11.1%.

The rate of caesareans has also seen an increase, rising from 22.9% to 23.5% in one year as a result of emergency procedures. Caesarean births account for as many as one in three births in some parts of London, such as Chelsea, Westminster and Paddington, where birth rates have boomed and maternity services are grossly overstretched.

Although caesareans are usually safe for mother and baby, there are risks involved as there is with all major surgery. The main risks are to mothers and include heavy bleeding, wound infections or the development of a blood clot in the leg veins.

Similarly, while midwives, obstetricians and the rest of the delivery team will endeavour to provide the best medical care, their resources are often so strained that birth accidents and other forms of medical negligence are sometimes a tragic inevitability.

Head of Policy Research at the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), Mary Newburn, commented on the publication of the NHS maternity statistics for England 2005-6.

We are concerned to see that the normal birth rate has decreased despite the Governments 2004 National Service Framework for children, young people and maternity services which set the standard for women being supported and encouraged to have as normal a pregnancy and birth as possible, with medical interventions recommended to them only if they are of benefit to the woman or her baby.

We are also concerned to see that the caesarean rate appears to be increasing (23.5%). More needs to be done if we are to meet the World Health Organisations recommendation of a 10-15% caesarean rate for any country.

Most women want their labour and birth to be straightforward with a minimum of intervention if they can cope, and their baby is healthy. Higher levels of intervention take control away from women, they tend to make labour more difficult to manage and result in a longer period of recovery afterwards.

The NHS should prioritise promoting normal birth and reducing unnecessary interventions. This would be helped if the Government funded programmes to tackle the causes and characteristics of high intervention rates.

For more information, please visit www.birthchoiceuk.com.

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