Maternity litigation cost the NHS 450 Million in 2014/5

Every year in England there are almost 700,000 live births. In 2012/13, the associated maternity care cost the NHS around £2.6 billion. Having a baby is the most common reason for a hospital admission, but maternity is a unique area of the NHS because the services support predominantly healthy women through a natural life event that does not always require doctor-led intervention.

While most of these births are successful, in 2014/15 the NHS Litigation Authority reported that maternity claims represented the highest value of clinical negligence claims and the fourth highest by volume. Obstetrics claims equated to approximately 41% of the £1.1bn paid by the NHS Litigation Authority last year. 2015 Survey of women’s experiences of matenity care, statistical release  – Care Quality Commision (NHS)

What we should be asking is-what going wrong with the care that there is such high levels of litigation every year. All too often the media blame those women requesting caesareans in the absence of medical need. (Remember NICE themselves found that the cost of a vaginal birth that requires an anaesthitist (epidural or spinal pain relief) and any additional intervention e.g. episiotomy, tear repairs, prolonged hospital stay (2 nights or more) etc. bumps the cost to almost exactly the same as a planned caesarean with no medical emergency. Blaming these women and labelling them too posh to push is ignoring the elephant in the room – not enough midwives.

Despite an overall increase in the number of midwives there is still a shortage of 2,300 that are required to meet current birth rates – a truly worrying figure. Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts 2014

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Competitive Exhaustion

This destructive habit can cause significant problems between couples. Both feel that their daily life is the most difficult and that the other just doesn’t understand. It is easy to then let resentment fester under the surface and spend valuable time and energy arguing about who has the worse deal.

This behaviour can occur regardless of the type of birth you have had. Remembering that your birth partner has also gone through huge upheaval and stress is important.

They are sleep deprived, they are anxious, they witnessed their loved one in pain. They may have felt inadequate during the birth blaming themselves for not having prevented unwanted intervention. Then and once back at home they may be taking roles and making decisions on your behalf that they are not used to.

For example, unless discussed in advance your partner will, in the case of a general anaesthetic, be making decisions about feeding and clothing your baby for her first few hours. Unless you have discussed it in advance they are unlikely to know what you are planning to do and may not know the potential impact of giving formula instead of breast milk immediately after birth. Try not to criticise decisions, particularly if you did not discuss such eventualities beforehand – they will have done what they thought was right at the time.

Similarly, while you are recovering, some jobs you have previously done within the home probably now fall to them. Some may relish this, but others may feel the pressure, particularly if you are overly critical. This will all be in addition to their working day so quite quickly they are going to end up as exhausted as you. Appreciate what they are doing and try not to criticise when things are not done your way. Does it matter if the washing is left in the machine for 24 hours before going into the dryer? Probably not. Nor is it the end of the world if they gave the kids the wrong drinks in their lunchbox.

Ask each other for help and support and try to remember that you are both going through a huge learning curve while extremely sleep deprived.

It is only in truly believing the roles are totally different and have extreme and unique pressures of their own that you can hope to remove this barrier to emotional recovery.

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Book Sale

GET YOUR COPY NOW!

Caesarean Birth: A Positive Approach to Preparation and Recovery

We have spare copies following a recent conference. These can be purchased direct at a reduced rate (£4.50 plus postage of £2.80 UK).

If you would like a copy please email me and we can arrange payment and postage.

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UK Hospital speaks out against caesarean targets

A UK hospital has challenged targets handed down by others (in this case their Clinical Commissioning Group – those who set the targets for the hospital). The Royal Berkshire Hospital was told their caesarean rate was too high (27.1%) and they must get it down to 23%. When asked whether it was cost driving this target the interim Medical Director Brian Reid said “That would be the driver.”

Unfortunately this target led approach to hospital care of pregnant women is typcial rather than unusual. Targets are a major factor driving policy and practise in many places. Where targets are based on cost cutting this can only mean that the health and safety of pregnant women and their unborn child cannot take top priority.

The NICE guidelines on Caesarean Section have stated that:

  • women wanting to request a caesarean where there is no medical need should engage in a detailed discussion with their practitioners. All the risks and benefits of both vaginal and caesarean birth should be fully discuss but if, after this, the woman still prefers a caesarean this should be granted
  • women wanting to request a caesarean on the grounds of fear should be offered perinatal mental health support and if, following this, they continue to want a caesarean, this should be granted

So if more women are making an informed decision in favour of a caesarean birth over an attempted vaginal birth then the targets need to reflect this need.

The World Health Organisation retracted their recommended target 4 years ago when the studies on which they had based their recommendations were found to be flawed. They have now stated:

There is “no empirical evidence for an optimum percentage”, an “optimum rate is unknown,” and world regions may now “set their own standards”. ‘Monitoring Emergency Obstetric Care: a handbook’

Despite this, official bodies continue to use such figures to beat their hospitals into submission with unachievable targets.

And lets be clear many caesarean requests are from women whose circumstances are not clear cut, where a decision in favour of either birth mode is equally justifiable. So simply telling them no when they ask for a caesarean and the press labelling these women as selfish or too posh to push is simplistic and insulting.

Take for example a baby lying in the breech position. A breech birth can be delivered vaginally or by caesarean section. However any woman making an informed decision about her birth will know that a breech position can make for a more protracted birth. Protracted births can increase the need for pain relief and instrumental assistance or ultimately an emergency caesarean. Couple with this, the fact that in the recent past many breech births have been delivered by caesarean, so practitioners are getting less experience with these births and this may justifiably lead some women to choose a planned caesarean over a vaginal attempt. These women are not selfish, they are making informed decisions on behalf of their own bodies and their baby’s.

So if you are planning your birth, read the NICE guideline and arm yourself with the facts prior to requesting a caearean, particularly one where there is no clear medical need. In addition my book “Caesarean Birth: A positive approach to preparation and recovery” provides all sorts of information about both caesarean and vaginal birth so that you can make an informed decision about which way you would prefer to proceed.

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Natural Caesareans – A UK trial

At long last there is a trial of the pioneering proceedure commonly referred to as a “Natural Caesarean’. Jenny Smith a senior midwife at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital in London developed the idea 10 years ago. There are many annecdotal benefits to the procedure and women report a much better experience of caesarean birth if they have been able to give birth this way. It is hoped that a successful trial will lead to this process being rolled out across the NHS.

We discussed this wonderful technique a while ago and there is an excellent video describing the process.

““It is about the mother. After the incision is made, the curtain is removed and the mother is able to see her little baby wriggle out. It is a special moment that is missed otherwise…The baby remains in the abdomen for up to four minutes and the mother can look at it, see its little face and eyes, and when it wriggles out it is the parents that first determine the sex.” Jenny Smith

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RCOG ‘State of the Nation’ report on Maternity Care

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) have published a report into the ‘State of the Nation’ with regards Maternity Care. It makes for an interesting if somewhat alarming read. It seems that childbirth is falling fowl of the ‘Postcode Lottery’ that is affecting so many aspects of British life.

The report is very careful to point out that while the data quality of many of the hospitals require significant improvement, they have attempted to provide a status nonetheless.

“Some of the observed differences could be due to differences in the quality of the data submitted by trusts…over 10% of hospital trusts failed all data quality checks and [we call] for greater NHS trust engagement in ensuring that IT systems are fit for purpose.”

During our work on the 2011 NICE Guideline on Caesarean Section, csections.org and  other organisations made a case for accurate reporting on births. In particular on the importance of separating out emergency from planned caesareans and the underlying indicators leading to each birth.

Media coverage of the recent report suggests that too many women are having planned caesareans prior to 39 week gestation-even in the absence of medical need. Once again the damning ‘Too posh to push’ label rears its head. However this may not be an accurate reflection of the report, for the reasons highlighted above and until such reporting is reliably undertaken by ALL hospitals in the UK it is not possible to say with confidence what the real situation is.

NICE Guidelines are clear-delivery prior to 39 weeks should be avoided unless there is a clear medical reason for it. A baby’s lungs are less well developed prior to this time and are therefore at increased risk of complications.

WHAT DOES THIS REPORT REALLY TELL US?

That while we would like to trust our practitioners have our best interests at heart (and that of our baby), the presence of a ‘postcode lottery’ reveals that advice given to women may be biased by a combination of hospital policy and personal opinion. The hard truth is COST is a major factor in the type and level of care you might receive.

KNOW YOUR FACTS!

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“We make sure the baby is alive and then we leave”

“We need to build bridges between midwives and doctors so we can all work together better for the best interests of the patient,” says Skinner. “At present we have a very short-term view. We make sure the baby is alive and then we leave, with little consideration for the long-term physical and emotional wellbeing of the mother.”

Anecdotally most women will know at least one friend who has required reconstructive surgery following their vaginal birth. In my case I have two friends who waited years before they had the courage to see their doctor in order to have serious issues fixed.

Why is it we don’t talk about it? Why do we seem to think that physical trauma is just all part and parcel of birth to be endured in secret?

Skinner is a co-author of a new piece of research looking into the psychological consequences of tramatic vaginal birth.

The women Skinner (an experienced midwife) interviewed were all low risk first time mothers. From a population of 850 births evaluated, 70 were identified as having major pelvic floor trauma (1 in 12) and 40 agreed to participate in the study. Of these 40 some had given birth without intervention (14), some with ventouse assistance-vacuum (8) and some with forceps (18). Of these women 100% suffered ‘levator avulsion’ (where part or all of the pelvic floor muscles are pulled off the pubic bone on one or both sides – resulting in urinary incontinence and/or urterine and/or bladder prolapse) and 55% suffered major obsetric anal sphincter tears.

Co author University of Sydney’s Professor Dietz says “Only about 25 per cent of women get a non-traumatic normal vaginal delivery that did not do serious damage to their pelvic floor or their anal sphincter” and continues “The forceps rate has doubled in NSW over the last 10 years. At some hospitals quadrupled”.

Dietz suggests that in trying to reduce the caesarean rate, other forms of intervention are once again on the increase.

Once again the lack of balanced information is making it very difficult for women to make an informed choice about their mode of birth.

The following findings from the study make very depressing reading…

  • Inadequate antenatal education (reported by 72.5% of respondants)
  • No information from clinicians regarding the possibility of postnatal pelvic floor issues (reported by 90%)
  • Conflicting advice before, during and after birth (reported by 87.5%)
  • Partners traumatised by events (reported by 52.5%)
  • Long term sexual dysfunction / relationship issues (reported by 67.5%)
  • An absence of postnatal assessment of injuries (reported by 90%)
  • Multiple symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction causing lifestyle alteration (reported by 87.5%)
  • Putting up with the symptoms quietly (reported by 90%)
  • Symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disporder) (reported by 67.5%)
  • ‘Dismissive reactions from clinicians’ (reported by 65%)

Skinner and Dietz believe that physical and psychological birth trauma is a major public health issue with “forceps being the main risk factor. Only a small proportion of anal sphincter trauma us optimally repaired, and major levator trauma is rarely diagnosed and never repaired”.

If postnatally your pelvic floor exercises do not appear to be improving symptoms it may be you have suffered ‘levator avulsion’. A simple explanation of this tramua can be found here. Go to your GP and request further investigation and support – there are options.

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NHS – joined up thinking

An update to the Antenatal and Postnatal Mental Health Guideline has been issued and is catching up with the caesarean guideline in recognising that a fear of childbirth can be a major challenge to some women. The guideline now recommends that:

“For a woman with tokophobia (an extreme fear of childbirth), offer an opportunity to discuss her fears with a healthcare professional with expertise in providing perinatal mental health support in line with section 1.2.9 of the guideline on caesarean section (NICE guideline CG132).”

In a step towards joined up thinking this, in theory, means that women should be able to discuss their fears of childbirth, increasing their likelihood of getting the support they need.

However automatically steering them away from a request caesarean in favour of vaginal birth should not be the focus of this support. Rather it should aim to help women develop the confidence to make informed decisions for themselves. Hopefully practitioner interpretation of the guidelines will recognise this. Of course specifying the term ‘tokophobia’ may give some the get out they want in order to turn away requests from women without the diagnosis. However knowing about these two guidelines and what they really mean, prior to antenatal appointments, give women a new advantage.

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UK hospital challenges caesarean targets

Finally a UK hospital has had the sense to challenge targets handed down by others (in this case their Clinical Commissioning Group). The Royal Berkshire Hospital has been told that their current caesarean rate (27.1%) is too high and they must get it down to 23%. When asked whether it was cost driving this target the interim Medical Director Brian Reid said “That would be the driver.”

Unfortunately this target led approach to hospital care of pregnant women is typcial rather than unusual. Targets are a major factor driving policy and practise in many places. Where targets are based on cost cutting this can only mean that the health and safety of pregnant women and their unborn child cannot take top priority.

The NICE guidelines on Caesarean Section have clearly stated that:

  • women wanting to request a caesarean where there is no medical need should engage in a detailed discussion with their practitioners. All the risks and benefits of both vaginal and caesarean birth should be fully discuss but if, after this, the woman still prefers a caesarean this should be granted
  • women wanting to request a caesarean on the grounds of fear should be offered perinatal mental health support and if, following this, they continue to want a caesarean, this should be granted

So if more women are making an informed decision in favour of a caesarean birth (and it is not clear that this group of women can be ‘blamed’ for the continuing rise in the caesarean rate) then the targets need to reflect this need.

The target recommended by the World Health Organisation in 1985 is frequently quoted by policy makers and yet WHO retracted their target 4 years ago when the studies on which they had based it were found to be flawed. They have now stated: …there is “no empirical evidence for an optimum percentage”, an “optimum rate is unknown,” and world regions may now “set their own standards”. ‘Monitoring Emergency Obstetric Care: a handbook’

Despite this, official bodies continue to use such figures to beat their hospitals into submission by giving them unachievable targets, legitimising their requirements by quoting the old, unsubstantiated advice of WHO, when in reality the targets being handed down are based on cost cutting – putting the lives of mothers and babies at risk.

So if you are hoping to plan a caesarean, read the NICE guideline and arm yourself with the facts and references prior to discussing your ideas. Whether you are hoping to avoid a caeswarean and need evidence as to why it is not necessary or you want to plan one and there is no clear medical reason for ir, you are likely to face a battle in order to make your choice about your body and your baby.

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Does a caesarean affect the way we bond with our babies?

It is often reported in the media that having a caesarean affects a mother’s ability to bond with her baby.

However, what is frequently missed in such statements is that research actually suggests it is the circumstances around the birth not the caesarean itself which can lead to problems. In fact planned caesareans have a better psychological outcome for women than instrumental vaginal births and unplanned caesareans.

It seems where bonding is affected, negative thoughts and feelings about the birth itself, rather than the practicalities of the caesarean, play a significant role. The following issues are thought to be particularly influencial:

It is important to understand that increased levels of stress may delay milk coming in, for some women and that for some this can have a knock on affect on how they perceive their bond developing, but for many there is no impact at all.

What is very clear is ANY birth perceived by mum to be traumatic can produce such an outcome.

It is simply not true that it will be impossible to look after your baby after a caesarean. You will be encouraged to pick up your baby and carry them as soon as you are out of bed (and you are expected to be up and walking within 12 hours of a caesarean). Unless you or baby are ill there is no reason why your baby cannot be in your arms or next to you for the whole period prior to getting out of bed. Discomfort from little kicking feet over the incision area can be easily managed by resting baby on a small pillow when breastfeeding (sitting or lying) and this does not prevent skin-to-skin contact. Proactive, positive support from midwives should mean that your experience of your baby in the hours following surgery should be no different from that of any other mother.

Such sweeping statements from health care professionals and the media lead to misunderstandings and cause women to fear caesareans, setting them up for difficulties post-operatively. It is such unnecessary negativity and fear mongering that contributed to my desire to write Caesarean Birth: A positive approach to preparation and recovery. I wanted to improve women’s understanding of caesarean birth so it is more likely to be viewed purely as another way baby arrives and not something to be feared. Unfortunately antenatal education rarely talks about caesarean birth in anything like a balanced and informative manner so many women go into their birth knowing next to nothing about caesareans.

Ways to improve your bonding experience:

  • Skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible, in theatre if you and baby are both well enough (put your gown on backwards before you go in so it opens at the front)
  • Focusing on feeding, with full eye contact and skin-to-skin contact ensures valuable one to one time with your baby is protected
  • Re-visit your birth and where necessary, seek support in coming to terms with any negatives thoughts about the birth itself
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