A report published by the Commons Public Accounts Committee has criticised the Department of Health once again. The report has highlighted that a national shortage of midwives is putting mothers and their newborns at risk. Perhaps, even more shocking, is the finding that neither the Department of Health and NHS England were clear as to who was responsible for ensuring that the NHS has enough midwives to meet demand.
There is currently a shortage of around 2300 midwives in the NHS. Whilst the NHS employed a further 1500 midwives last year, birth rates and staff turnaround have increased wards causing maternity wards to remain understaffed.
The report also found that rates of still births and deaths within seven days are still the highest in England against statistics for other UK nations and the numbers continue to rise.
With nearly £5billion being set aside for potential negligence claims, around £700, per birth it seems that the NHS are somewhat in a catch 22. It could be argued that such funds should be invested to improve the service provided, to ensure the staffing requirements are met and reduce the level of pressure in obstetric wards as this would hopefully reduce the chance of negligent errors taking place in the first instance.
However, on the other hand with such incidences on the increase and taking into account the long term financial need of children who are injured at birth it is important to ensure that such “contingency funds” can meet the levels of future financial provision required in terms of compensation.
Unfortunately it seems that there is no quick or easy solution and therefore the NHS are likely to remain in what seems to be a catch 22 situation for some time.