Alleged withholding of epidurals a breach of the duty of care maternity units owe those in labour

You may have seen that allegations appeared in The Sunday Telegraph over the weekend that six NHS Trusts, primarily in the South East of England, have been withholding epidurals from those in labour due to a supposed “cult of natural childbirth”.

It should be said that there are valid reasons for withholding an epidural as, while epidural blocks are very effective of helping to relieve pain during labour, which in turn can help women to relax, making the passage of labour easier, the condition of the person in labour has to meet certain criteria for the procedure to be safely administered without endangering the person in labour or their baby.

As The Guardian rightly points out in its reporting of this story, an epidural has to be administered by an anaesthetist in an obstetric unit. An epidural can also cause a drop in blood pressure in up to 14% of those they are given to, so it is important to closely monitor the patient as the anaesthetist and their fellow attending medical professionals would need to respond quickly if the epidural caused the patient’s blood pressure to drop dangerously low or caused another kind of adverse reaction.

The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has said that he will investigate the allegations, saying the following in a statement;

“I want all expectant mothers to be able to make an informed choice that’s right for them, to know this choice will be fully respected and to have the freedom to change their mind … Women being denied pain relief is wrong, and we will be investigating.”

On this point, we do agree with Mr Hancock – it should always be the patient’s choice whether they receive pain relief during labour if it is safe for them to receive it – and we welcome this matter being thoroughly investigated to find if there is any truth to these allegations.

What really worries us though when we read this story is that it is just one of many stories where allegations of possible negligent care related to childbirth that have received national media attention recently. For example, we wrote last week about a BBC investigation that revealed at least seven preventable new-born deaths had occurred at East Kent NHS Trust maternity units. In addition, numerous media outlets, including The Daily Mail, ran the tragic story earlier this month of Ms. Gabriela Pintilie, who died at The Basildon Hospital last February after losing six litres of blood following a Caesarean section. At the inquest, it emerged that doctors refused to allow blood clotting drugs and other blood products to be given to Ms, Pintilie after a “miscommunication” between doctors over the administering of different haemorrhaging protocols during surgery. Finally, we wrote at the start of the year about the independent review that is currently investigating more than 800 cases of alleged poor care by The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust. At the heart of this review is investigations into the deaths of at least 42 babies and three mothers, in addition to 50 cases where babies suffered brain damage.

Childbirth and the aftercare of both mother and baby is far too important to get wrong, as seems to be the case when considering the alleged negligent care at both East Kent and The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital over a number of years. The administering of epidurals and other forms of pain relief is part of this, with NHS guidelines stating that women in labour can ask for pain relief at any time and should be given information and support to choose what is right for them. On this point, we would argue that giving pain relief to someone in labour forms part of the duty of care the delivery team has for that person.

Ultimately, everything that can be done for someone who is giving birth should be done. They are bringing their child into the world, which should be one of the happiest moments in their life. Therefore, maternity units and the delivery teams working within them should try to make the experience as comfortable for both mother and baby as possible

The Medical Negligence Experts work with specialist legal firms that unfortunately have a lot of experience in handling birthing claims where the standard of care has been negligent. While it doesn’t change how negative the experience was, this mean the solicitors we work with are in the best possible position to help you get the maximum amount of compensation you are entitled to.

If you feel that you have been denied pain relief during labour, or have any other concerns about the standard of care you received while giving birth and would like some advice to see if you may have a claim, do not hesitate to contact The Medical Negligence Experts via the contact form on our website or by calling 0161 413 8761.