Leigh East talking to BBC York – Caesarean ban

Interviewed by BBC Radio York for a debate on PCTs banning planned caesareans where there is no medical need (in at 35 minutes). Useful comments later in the programme from independent midwife Chris Warren.

The majority of the debate centred around the question of whether or not women requesting caesareans really knew what they were doing and if so whether they had the right to make an informed choice in favour of a caesarean in the absence of any medical need.

“A woman ought to have the right to evaluate those risks for the planned side of caesareans and for vaginal birth. One of the reasons I think we are seeing an increase in the number of requests is that women are starting to do this. Women are starting to get access to that information and some women, not all because I agree there is a ‘lifestyle’ choice going on here for some women, but some women are making the choice for a planned caesarean to avoid the risks associated with a vaginal birth that goes wrong.”

“Some obstetricans would say that a prophylactic caesarean in certain situations is far less risky than the risk of giving birth [vaginally]. For example if you look at the twins scenario, that is one of those ‘grey’ areas where some practitioners will say no you shouldn’t try and give birth naturally and others will say ‘yes, go ahead’. The difficulty is you are then down to personal opinon of the practitioner that you are speaking to. Women are not given the information they need in order to make those choices for themselves. The National Institute of Clinical Excellence has spent the last 18 months reviewing the data regarding specifically maternal request caesareans and they have now decided and this is going to come out in the next few weeks…it is a reasonable thing for a woman to choose a caesarean. They have actually stated “If a vaginal birth is still not an acceptable option to the woman, her request for a caesarean should be supported within the health service.” NICE 2011

It was suggested that maternal request caesareans should be banned as proposed by some PCTs in order to save the NHS millions of pounds. This suggestion is born out of the NICE calculation that there is an £800 cost difference between these types of caessarean and vaginal births. However the figures used by NICE are based upon flawed data. The base case cost used for caesareans in the calculation includes ALL caesareans (including those which have medical indications and therefore additional costs due to complications arising). NICE justify this by saying “good quality UK cost data for caesarean section performed solely on the basis of maternal request is not currently available as far as we are aware.” But what this means is that the quoted savings use the cost of caesareans where problems are ALREADY identified, they specifically do NOT use the actual cost of a planned caesarean where there is no medical indicator. Not only this but the savings statements assume that all women refused a maternal request caesarean will go on to have an intervention free birth where they leave the hospital the same day. Given the 50% intervention rate of UK vaginal births, this is highly unlikely.

They [the PCTs] will find that the guidelines from NICE will shortly say the exact opposite and the PCTs need to take account of the research review that is coming out. The fact that PCTs use this figure, £800, as the cost difference between a natural birth and a planned caesarean does not take account of the fact that many births involve some form of intervention…the chances of achieving an £800 saving by putting more women into the natural birth scenario is unrealistic because actually a lot of women will not achieve a natural birth and so the costs will be much more similar to a planned caesarean.”