Sunday, 2 December 2007

The NHS today

Sub-standard care, staff shortages and higher levels of obesity are resulting in the highest death rate among new mothers for 20 years, according to a damning report to be published this Tuesday. By Jonathan Owen and Ian Griggs

Published: 02 December 2007

Record numbers of women are dying during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth, with maternal deaths in the UK at their highest for 20 years.

The findings are revealed in a new report, Saving Mothers' Lives, from the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (Cemach) to be released on Tuesday. Almost 300 women died in childbirth between 2003 and 2005 from conditions relating to pregnancy, leaving 520 children motherless. In a damning verdict on the substandard care that is putting women's lives at risk, the report, seen exclusively by The Independent on Sunday, cites "avoidable factors" that have contributed to the death toll.

It condemns "the number of healthcare professionals who appeared to fail to identify and manage common medical conditions or potential emergencies outside their immediate area of expertise".

It goes on to say that "resuscitation skills were also considered poor in an unacceptably high number of cases" where women died, and that the maternity system allowed "inappropriate delegation to junior staff", which hampered the medical care mothers received.

Cemach also calls for pre-conception counselling and advice for obese women, who are at higher risk of complications during pregnancy.

The report reveals that the mortality rate among mothers giving birth is up to almost 14 per 100,000 people – an increase of more than 50 per cent since 1985-87. Repeated reports highlighting fundamental failings in maternity care have failed to reduce the rate of maternal mortality – and women continue to die from common and curable infections. The number of women dying from heart disease has more than doubled since Cemach's last report on deaths from 2000-02. It has overtaken thrombosis as the most common cause of maternal death, in what the latest report says "reflects the growing incidence of acquired heart disease in younger women related to poor diets, smoking, alcohol and the growing epidemic of obesity".

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