Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from 81 of 132 National Health Service (NHS) hospital trusts with maternity wards has shown that 259 women and babies died from avoidable circumstances throughout the UK’s healthcare system, between 2013 and 2016.

However, as a third of hospitals still have not provided data, it is likely that the figures are much higher. Additionally, maternity staff were found to have been making more than 1,400 mistakes every week, leading to 305,019 errors in the last three years.

Midwives and nurses believe the mistakes are happening because safety is being compromised due to understaffing, an ever-rising birth rate and the complex pregnancies associated with older mothers. The mistakes include staff failing to monitor babies’ heart rates, conducting C-sections too late, administering epidural painkillers incorrectly and mixing up patients’ notes.

The chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives says, “the simple truth is we do not have enough midwives right now, we are also seeing more leaving the profession because of stress and a slight reduction in the number of student midwives training. We can’t deliver the safest possible care if we don’t have enough midwives and doctors working here.”

One hospital trust at the epicenter of problems

The news comes on the heels of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s investigation into one trust - Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust - following the deaths of 15 babies and three mothers. Four families have said their babies died, another four have blamed the hospital for brain injuries sustained by their babies and one is alleging the trust caused the death of a mother.

According to one lawyer involved in the ongoing investigations, of the babies who have suffered brain injury, the main cause is deprivation of oxygen at birth, causing severe brain damage, cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Some are so affected, doctors say they will need 24-hour care and will most likely not be able to attend university or have a career or a family of their own.

However it is not just babies, mothers are also being severally affected. A survey by the parenting website Mumsnet found that a fifth of new mothers were frightened and often left traumatised by their experience.

Lack of communication putting patients at risk

Additionally, exposed emails exchanged between Andrew Tapp, the medical director of the women and children’s services at the trust and a GP have caused alarm at some department’s “fax and forget” attitude. GPs were given patient’s paperwork without explanation or context, making it difficult for them to understand why particular tests had been ordered and how to follow up on them.

One case in particular was highlighted in which a young pregnant woman was tested for a group B streptococcus infection. The significant delay in the hospital communicating the positive result to her GP could have put her child’s life at risk had antibiotics not been administered immediately.

The trust’s chief executive Simon Wright said, “The death of a baby is the most tragic event imaginable and we again apologise unreservedly to the families involved. The trust has carried out investigations into every case to ensure that lessons can be learned.” MIMS

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