THE Health and Social Care Bill will increase the number of deaths on maternity units, Unison warned yesterday.
A leaked NHS report revealed that there were 42 maternal deaths in London units between January 2009 and June 2010 – double the number expected.
Of the 42 mothers who died half were from deprived backgrounds, two thirds were from the black and ethnic minority population and 17 of the 42 deaths could have been avoided.
Findings from a Freedom of Information Act survey carried out for last night’s BBC Panorama programme, also showed maternity units across the UK closed to new admissions 1,055 times last year, meaning that 927 women were turned away.
Staffing issues were to blame for 50 per cent of the closures, with units being at capacity the second most cited reason (midwife vacancy rates are 20 per cent in some London NHS trusts).
Unison head of health, Christina McAnea, said: ‘’Maternity staff are struggling to cope with the number of existing mothers, while posts lie vacant and the number of births continues to rise. This means desperate mothers are turned away due to a lack of beds.’
She continued: ‘The Health and Social Care Bill can only escalate the problem, as patients become little more than consumers in a market-driven service, with profits being put first, and further service and job cuts.’
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) estimates that at least an extra 4,700 midwives need to be employed across England and Wales to provide a safe service.
The RCM adds that there should be an average midwife to birth ratio of one midwife for every 28 births, but the average ratio in England is much higher than that – with one midwife for every 32 births, and in some hospitals it is much worse – with the Aneurin Bevan in Wales topping the list at one midwife for every 46.7 births.
Other UK hospitals with a ratio of more than 40 births per midwife are West Middlesex Hospital at 43.88, Ashford and St Peter’s at 43.59, Wiltshire PCT at 43.53, Basingstoke and North Hampshire at 42.44, Great Western at 41.54, Heatherwood and Wexham Park at 41.18, Barnet and Chase Farm at 40.65 and West Hertfordshire at 40.24.
‘We estimate that we need at least 4,700 more midwives in England to catch-up with the tidal wave of births that has engulfed maternity services over the past decade,’ said Cathy Warwick general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives.
‘I have real fears that we are teetering on the brink and that safety is in some places being compromised and at risk in others because of the pressures on midwives and maternity services.’