Staffing cuts causing ‘avoidable’ maternal deaths

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AN independent inquiry into the unusually large number of maternal deaths in London over the past two years has confirmed that the government policy of cutting the NHS to the bone to ensure the survival of the banks is killing not just the sick but healthy women as well.

The inquiry was commissioned to look into the unusually high maternal death rate in the capital – 42 in the past two years.

Out of these 42 deaths the inquiry found that 17 could have been avoided had they not experienced ‘substandard treatment’.

In the words of the report: ‘Escalation of services was noted to be an issue when units appeared to have difficulty coping with the clinical workload; several deaths occurred when activity in a maternity unit was high and one-to-one care could not be delivered.’

The reason why the necessary care for these women could not be delivered is simple – the cuts in the NHS initiated years ago but dramatically accelerated by this coalition have resulted in a situation where midwife vacancies are running at five per cent in England, and the Royal College of Midwives has estimated that an extra 4,700 midwives need to be recruited to provide a safe service.

In London the vacancy rate for midwives is a staggering 20 per cent.

On top of this crisis in staffing levels is the entire issue of ward and hospital closures.

The inquiry found that maternity units in London hospitals closed their doors due to either bed or staff shortages 1,055 times in 2010.

This resulted in 927 women in advanced stages of labour being turned away and forced to travel other hospitals – this represented a massive 32 per cent increase on the already unacceptable levels reached in 2009.

In the north London, Barnet Hospital it was found that the maternity unit had been shut on 102 occasions in the last year.

When the Royal College of Nursing at its recent conference stated that nursing posts at risk from hospital closures were now 36,000, and that the NHS ‘savings’ are now placing patients’ lives at risk, they spoke nothing but the grim truth.

Last month the Kings Fund health think-tank announced that hospital services throughout the country, and especially in the large cities, simply cannot be sustained and they urged the government to ‘wield the axe’.

They call for the closure of 20 hospitals deemed to be ‘not financially sustainable’, while the man in charge of the coalition’s recent PR ‘listening exercise’ over Lansbury’s NHS Bill put the figure for hospital closures nearer 30, claiming that this was the number of hospitals in the country that are bankrupt.

Every inquiry or report into the state of the NHS arrives at one inescapable conclusion, that the savage cuts imposed on the NHS by the coalition are killing people.

Right up to the advent of modern hospitals and the NHS, childbirth represented the greatest threat to female mortality – it was the single biggest killer of otherwise healthy young women.

Under capitalism in the 21st century we are seeing a return to those dark ages where pregnancy is something to be feared and becomes life threatening.

Far from advancing humanity today, capitalism is determined to drive workers and whole sections of the middle class back to the barbaric conditions that existed over 100 years ago.

The demand must be that any ward or hospital threatened with closure must be taken over and occupied in order to keep it open, and that the full strength of the trade union movement must be mobilised in a general strike to defend the NHS and bring down this coalition government, and replace it with a workers government going forward to socialism.