Maternity Care Fails One Third Of Women

More than a third of new mothers who took part in the countrywide poll said they had been refused sedatives, painkillers and epidurals, or were forced to wait for them at the height of labour.

In total, 37 per cent said they did not get the pain relief they wanted, or get it quickly enough, while 31 per cent said they were left alone at a point when they felt worried.

The survey by Opinion Health found that new mothers were especially unhappy about the quality of post-natal care. Almost one in four described her overall care after birth as poor, while one in three suffered from post-natal depression.

The findings come as the Healthcare Commission, the Government’s health watchdog, prepares to release league tables showing that in some parts of the country three quarters of maternity units are failing to meet the most basic standards.

Among those with the worst rating of “weak” are some of London’s best-known maternity centres, including Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital and St Mary’s Hospital, both in west London.

Katherine Murphy, from the Patients’ Association, said the findings showed maternity services had reached “crisis point”.

“Women are being treated like they’re on a conveyer belt at a time when they are frightened and vulnerable,” she said. “Midwives are so stretched that there is no time for them to offer reassurance and advice.”

She added: “Birth should be one of the happiest and most rewarding occasions in a woman’s life. Instead we have ended up with a maternity service in crisis.”

Mrs Murphy said the charity’s helpline had received countless calls from mothers who had been horrified by the state of their local maternity units, including many who discharged themselves early because they were disgusted by the poor hygiene on wards and bathrooms.

The Royal College of Midwives says there is a shortfall of 5,000 midwives in England, while the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists estimates that 500 more consultants are needed.

Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “There aren’t enough midwives, doctors or even beds.

“The gaps we are talking about are basic. Midwives hate the fact they have not got time to give the care and reassurance that they want to give.” Professor Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, vice president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “If a woman is not being given an epidural that she wants, we need to find out why.

“Is it because there is a shortage of midwives, so there is nobody attending to the mother, and finding out that is what she wants, or are these hospitals short of anaesthetists so they cannot even provide the service?”

Sir Robert Naylor, chief executive of University College Hospital in London, which was rated “fair” in the Healthcare Commission’s inspections, said there were too many maternity units in the capital, and that some should be closed, so that midwives were “spread less thinly”.

Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, described the findings from the commission as “alarming”.

He accused the Government of “endlessly repeating empty promises” to give women a dedicated midwife through labour, instead of investing in the funds to make it happen.