The potential dangers of midwife-led units

Posted on: December 12th, 2016

In recent years there has been encouragement from government (supported by NICE) for more women to give birth at midwife-led units rather than traditional labour wards. The evidence provided is that this is safer for women with straightforward, low risk pregnancies.

However, figures obtained by the BBC from 128 midwife-led units found that one in four women had to be transferred to consultants because of complications. In 40% of cases, this involved an average journey of 17 miles, but in some instances was up to 60 miles.

Whilst midwife-led units are safer for low risk pregnancies, the fact that so many women are suffering from complications calls into question whether the correct risk assessments are being done and the correct advice being given to women as to where the most suitable place for them to give birth is.

At Coffin Mew we specialise in clinical negligence claims, especially those resulting in brain injury during labour. We see the after effects of what can happen when things go wrong, often leaving children suffering from cerebral palsy and a lifetime need for care and assistance.

We know that once complications start, every second is vital. We have seen cases in which mistakes were made, meaning that mothers were classified as low risk when they should not have been. It is therefore essential that before making these decisions, a thorough and proper risk assessment is carried out and that mothers are advised of the risks of giving birth in a midwife-led unit that does not have instant access to a consultant.

We have also seen cases where a low risk pregnancy becomes high risk during labour. Monitoring is therefore critical to identify when the risk of injury to the newborn is increasing and transfer to a Obstetric unit is needed. Often when its left too late the complications are occurring and its too late to get mum and baby to the right place.

We would encourage any expectant parent to be aware of the risks and make an informed decision when deciding what’s best for them.

For further information, please contact our Catastrophic Injury and Clinical Negligence team on 0800 834 627.